Did Cancer Burn Down Your Barn? Turn the Negative Into a Positive


The moon is brighter since the barn burned. Matsuo Basho

My yoga teacher Barbara recently shared a New York Times article about a doctor who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. In her book, Red Sunshine, (Amazon Associates link.) Dr. Kimberley Allison talks about how positive thinking helped her endure her challenging treatments. Barbara circled two paragraphs in the article:

One of the drugs often given to women with breast cancer is Adriamycin, a bright red liquid delivered intravenously. Many patients call it the “red devil” because of its terrible side effects – severe nausea, constipation, mouth sores and serious declines in white blood cells that protect against infections.

But Dr. Allison said she renamed the drug “red sunshine” and chose to regard the therapy “as my ally, not my enemy. I looked forward to getting it every week. Thinking of that drug as ‘red sunshine’ helped me see the positive side of a trying situation.”

At the top of the article, Barbara wrote, “Pratipaksha Bhavanam (replacing negative thoughts with positive ones.)” She explained during class that pratipaksha bhavanam is one of the sutras, or words of wisdom, from the Yoga Sutra, the guidebook of yoga written over 1000 years ago. Nowhere in the article is this concept mentioned, but Barbara immediately recognized it in action in the doctor’s words.

I’ve said many times that no cancer patient or survivor should feel compelled to be positive at all times. I think that’s an impossible standard, which causes yet another stress. Further, I don’t believe for a second that cancer positive thinking alone determines outcome. There is no secret guaranteeing wellness if only we believe strongly enough. I do believe that attitude goes a long way in dealing with stress, which is damaging to our health.

I also believe that ultimately it comes down to healing. By facing cancer’s losses and the gifts that arose from them, I finally gave myself permission to heal. I didn’t know the term at the time, but I was putting the pratipaksha bhavanam concept into action.

The Matsuo Bahto quote above stopped me in my tracks when I first read it. It’s such a simple and succinct statement of how we can gain gifts through loss. No where is it said that we should be happy that the barn burned. In fact, it’s pretty clear to me that the barn is a total loss. But the simple fact is that it is only because of that loss that the moon is now perceived as brighter.

If you’ve lived through the diagnostic and treatment phase of cancer and all of its emotional and physical side-effects, it’s pretty safe to say that cancer burned down your barn. I’d love to know how you’ve used the concept of pratipaksha bhavanam, or turning from the negative to the positive, to bring the moon’s brightness into your healing.

Survival > Existence,

Image courtesy of Ana Sofia Guerreirinho



Susan's picture


Such an easy and beautiful lesson to learn!


Debbie's picture

Cancer Teaches A Lot of Lessons

Thanks, Susan. Cancer certainly teaches a lot of lessons.


One thought on “Did Cancer Burn Down Your Barn? Turn the Negative Into a Positive

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