Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I am following the story of little Hannah, the ten year old with breast cancer. Her family has started a blog, and I follow it with a prayer in my heart for Hannah.

I have been reading comments, and I had to do a public reply for some of them.

A common thing to say to people facing a serious disease is "Just be positive, and you can beat this!" or some derivation of that statement.

On its face, this is good advice. When we approach our problems with an open heart for solutions, it helps. The way we perceive our problems can be part of our problems, and if we just mope and complain then we have extra problems, for we miss out on the sweetness when we're focused on the bitterness.

But I still hate this advice. Know why? Because it is not always possible, or appropriate, to be positive when you have a serious disease. Having someone who is in perfect health say "just chin up!" sounds like "stop whining!" Sometimes, it is even insulting. It is APPROPRIATE to cry, to rage, to ask unanswerable questions of the universe. What if I die? Am I strong enough to fight this? Why me? Those questions are painful, and to me, that is perfectly rational. Nobody says, "Hurray! I got picked for breast cancer! Please cut off my breasts and take my hair and make me feel sick and old because I just KNOW this is going to be a character building experience! I'm so grateful!" Maybe there are elements of that in our path to acceptance, but there is some negative thinking, too.

And that is OKAY.

The other part of the advice that makes me hate it? The implication is that, if positive thinking will cure me, then negative thinking will kill me. That makes me think that I'm not allowed to have doubt or fear, and I think that is down-right unreasonable. Mother Theresa had doubt (her letters were published after her death) in her faith, and she is a saint. I am NOT a saint, and I am allowed doubt. It does not make me less of a person, or less of a survivor, it makes me HUMAN. My positive thinking will not cure me any more than collapsing into tears will kill me. Both are real, and I need to be allowed to weep or rage against the unfairness sometimes, too.

I'd like to believe that I am more positive than negative, that I have confronted this disease with a little bit of grace sometimes, but I am not perfect, and I did not approach my disease perfectly, especially if "perfect" means "perfect optimism."

Yes, it hits a nerve with me.

So next time you're talking to someone with a major hurdle, encourage them, certainly. But please don't tell them that their positive attitude will save them. It didn't save me from getting breast cancer in the first place, but I don't think I brought this on myself. And if I feel doubt, or fear, or anger, it doesn't mean that I can't move means that I feel grief. I bet you would, too, but I hope you never get to experience what I've experienced.


Adrianna said...

Well said. I didn't have cancer myself BUT my son was diagnosed at the age of 2 with Pleuropulmonary Blastoma (very rare lung cancer) and passed away January 2008 a month before his 9th birthday. At this point in MY life I hear that "He's in a better place" and "at least you have your other son". Makes me want to scream! A lot of times I just want to be sad and/or angry because that is how I feel! I miss my son and that's it! There simply isn't a way to rationalize that. No silver lining. That's how I feel at this point in my grief, anyway. I get sick of pretending for others that I'm OK just so they're not uncomfortable. UGH. Not sure why I care sometimes. Our situations aren't exactly the same but I can relate in my own way to your feelings. Anyway, I just wanted you to know I am glad you spoke out.

Praying for you!


Kristina said...

Oh Adrianna - your post took my breath away. I am so sorry...but those words don't convey nearly enough of what I'm trying to say. I am a mother, and I understand a mother's love....a loss like yours I can't comprehend. You don't have to pretend to me that you're okay. I will pray that you find some kind peace - not acceptance (how could I ask you to accept this?), exactly, but not just raw pain, either. I hope that reading this helped you in some tiny way. Thank you for sharing your story with me. I feel your rage, and share a piece of it. It is not fair, and I do not understand... and I'm so sorry that this happened to you and your son.

Adrianna said...

Thank you. It helps to know that others feel that it's ok to express yourself even if it sounds angry or negative. I feel I am allowed that "pity party" every once in awhile as you are too. Most days people in our situations can keep our heads up and be OK but there are those days that we just want to ask "why me?". I am glad you reminded me that I can do that sometimes.

If you don't mind I'd really like to keep reading your blog.

Take care!

Kristina said...

Adrianna, if you can wade through the minutuea of my life, you're welcome to read along. :-)