Do You Share Your Bad Attitude Toward Cancer?


It is very important to generate a good attitude, a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come. Dalai Lama

As cancer survivors, we often run into the “have a positive attitude no matter what” message. I often heard this during the early days of my diagnosis and treatment. What surprised me most was how many times I heard it directly from other cancer survivors.

Although I never agreed with the “be positive all the time” credo, I did struggle with how to express my sometimes negative attitude toward cancer to others. After my mastectomy, my husband and I had plans to see friends, but I told him I wasn’t up for socializing. My reason wasn’t physical. I was emotionally exhausted from telling people I was fine when they asked me how I was doing. I felt like I was lying all the time and I just didn’t want to do it again.

My husband told me very simply to tell the truth. It was a radical idea because I dreaded letting others see my emotional struggle. I also felt I was through the worst part of my treatment and should be moving on. Wow! Does that mean I felt I hadn’t suffered enough to have earned the right to have a negative attitude toward cancer once in a while?

I guess so, because I sure felt deserving after an earlier, difficult experience. My younger sister and I went through infertility and miscarriages at the same time. When we both finally got pregnant, we approached giving birth in exactly the same way. I remember our adamant discussions about our “right” to skip the joys of natural childbirth.

We both felt strongly that we had suffered enough through infertility treatments and had “earned” the right to give birth blissfully drugged up and pain-free. We were fine with our bad attitudes because we felt it was entirely unnecessary to put ourselves through any more pain. We had suffered enough.

Despite my inability to see my cancer experience in the same way, I took my husband’s advice. I was standing in my friends’ kitchen when they asked the inevitable question, “How are you doing?” I told them the truth about how difficult I was finding the emotional healing (not to mention the physical healing from a mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction.) Their empathetic support and compassion actually surprised me. Although I had been sharing my negative attitude toward cancer with my oncology therapist, I wasn’t trusting my friends and family with my feelings. Realizing that they could handle my less than positive spin on cancer was entirely eye opening and liberating.

It’s certainly important to be as positive as you can, whenever you can. It just doesn’t seem possible for anyone to have a good attitude toward cancer all of the time. To even try is exhausting and an unreasonable burden to place on yourself. Even the Dalai Lama only encourages a good attitude, “as much as possible.”  When you just can’t be positive, don’t. Be honest with the people who love you. If you give people a chance to be supportive, you might be as surprised as I was at how beautifully they come through for you.

What do you think about being positive and having a good attitude all of the time? Is it possible? If not, how do you handle sharing your “bad” attitude with others?

Survival > Existence,

Image courtesy of greg


AnneMarie's picture
When you can’t be positive,

When you can’t be positive, just don’t. How Simple and Straighforward. Thanks, Debbie. I am mostly positive but when I want to have a bad DAY or a bad MOMENT….. I want to work through the feeling. It’s not normal to be upbeat every time we are in the company of others. Thank you for sharing this!

Debbie's picture
Giving Ourselves Permission to Feel

Hi AnnMarie:

It really is important to know that you don’t have to be positive all of the time for others. I think when we’re down, but we know we have a right to work through it and tomorrow might be a better day, that is in fact positive thinking. Whenever we give ourselves permission to feel whatever it is we are feeling, that’s a positive in my mind.

Survival > Existence,


Nancy's Point's picture
This is such an important

This is such an important topic/post. I am a firm believer in acknowledging all of our feelings surrounding our cancer experience. The often expected “positive attitude” thing regarding cancer is a real pet peeve of mine. Here’s a link to a post I wrote about it. I hope you’ll check it out. Thanks so much for writing this, Debbie.

Debbie's picture
What a Positive Attitude Actually Accomplishes


I read your post and am so with you. Elizabeth Edwards actually has a great quote on positive thinking: “A positive attitude is not going to save you. What it’s going to do is, everyday, between now and the day you die, whether that’s a short time from now or a long time from now, that every day, you’re going to actually live.” Elizabeth Edwards

There’s a woman who got it.

Survival > Existence,


Kay's picture
Positive attitude

Your words explain very much how I feel. Additionally, the guilt of hearing “not to lose faith” was another phrase I struggled with. The mastectomy was scarey, the physical changes were monumental, the inability to do aerobic exercise depleted the endorphin supply for some time, and pain meds added a special dark cloud to everything. Thank you for your sharing.

Debbie's picture
Sharing our stories make the challenges a bit easier

Hello Kay,

Given all the challenges we face it’s inevitable we’re going to lose faith once in a while. We’re human, right? Each of us is doing our best and only someone who’s faced the same challenges truly gets how hard it is to keep going, day after day. I’ve found that sharing with other survivors makes the dark clouds a bit brighter. Take care of yourself and thank you for sharing.


kacey's picture

I’m so glad I found this page. I just months after giving birth to our miracle that had been long given up to happen and adopted 10 yrs before out 2 blessings. Wishing I would ever give birth was long moved on and became a mom by adoption. I can still remember that I sat week after waiting to be called to be given poison aka chemo.. thinking I just have a tumor all these others havecancer. Despite the book I read on how to tell other use the term tumor instead of cancer. That is how my oncologist said it & 8 weeks in to my weekly poisoning during my treatment the reality hit me hard… I had cancer! I still don’t see how it took me 8wks to get it! I had a 3 mo old baby and 2 10yr olds, I was 34 yrs old, only 9mo before I had finally landed my dream position… now gone as I couldn’t work I was not just chemo, not my emotional sick, but I had to be the 1 with the rarest form of all cancers, Less than 100 women worldwide get it per yr, but I had to be the 1 with the most agressive form (4th ever) and of course be allergic to chemo and get a 2nd rare syndrome which is a fatal reaction to the chemo and had 2 more daily rounds (5 days with 1 wk off & 5 days) with 20 medications to keep me alive as it and cancer were killing me. Finally after being so weak I could not even sit up to throw up every 2 or 3 mins if awake. I had a bag I’d turn my head when I threw up. Blisters exploding over and over within mins under those were more… imagine worst acne ever times 50 and it looked like that… it wasn’t acne, another fun reaction to allergic to my poison, my lining of my mouth peeled off and mouth sores so large my entire bottom lip inside and it began to grow deeper like a crater, I had morphine 2 kinds around the clock as well but I was still in pain, I wasn’t expected twice to live through the night but I did. Finally they agreed to do a complete hesterectomy as my cancer is a form of uterine cancer call gestational tropblastic tumor… only 2 ways to get it but I of course they say neither was how it formed so now I’m the case study… it spread to my lung in 15 days and would have gone to my brain and dead 3 mos at most had I not just given birth… only way to find this cancer us a + pregnancy test but no baby!
I lived I’m 3 yrs in remission only my tumor in my lung is still there. It’s considered a dead tumor because it shrunk 2 half the size and haany grown, most they said if 1 yr after hasn’t completely absorbed and gone they usually remove it only to give patients peace but mine had to be so close to my heart they can’t unless it begins to grow. It’s too dangerous to remove it.
I should be happy I’m alive to raise my 3 kids, many countless blessing have been given to us since bur I’m so depressed, cancer too my health, my hair grew back fast.. 2 mos after chemo stopped I had to have my 1st hair cut to make this new inches look shaped…. I now have many many health problems from chemo like all my teeth rotted, chemo induced neuropathy but only 1 toe 1 foot is effected, fybromylgia as well, this weird tic when I’m overwhelmed and tired I do this head bobbing like I’m crazy… and in pain from all the damage cancer left! I can’t seem to get myself back together, the new me as cancer took that person!

I felt so alone because it’s been 3 yrs since and I’m still sick, lost, depressed and I feel like I am the only one who just can’t past this…

I kept positive through the entire time I was fighting to live.. I’d make jokes like hi go hi hi of to get poisoned I go! Or I’d say hair today gone tomorrow! Id give my family and friends or my chemo nurses, etc locks of my very lover hair each time my locks fell out… I’d tell them a gift from me… my mother couldn’t stand my making jokes bur if I didn’t I’d not be able to make it…
I am a positive type, before and even now outwardly but inside I’m sick of being sick and cancer still right here all the time! I’m tired of saying I’m sorry because I can’t understand as fast, everything I do I can’t just give the info quickly to the point anymore, I forget words stupid little everyday words often… they said chemo brain does it to you but don’t worry it will go away after chemo ends 6mo to a yr it wI’ll be gone… 3 yrs still effecting my daily life… answer I was given: because I was so toxic I may have permanent effects… but it should get better as time goes. It has some but not where I’d be able to do my profession again like I loved doing. I miss me… my old me. I did find some new things I like about the new me but very few…

My family is still effected by the cancer now dead gone…

Sorry I carried on so much and long! Like I said no longer can I find the get the point with enough details but not like now…

I’m so glad I’m not the only 1 who is going through the same! I just want to move on and be a better me!

Debbie's picture
You Can Carry On Here Any Time You Want!

You’re definitely not the only one grappling with getting past cancer, Kacey. Thank you for sharing your story and telling the truth about your life. It’s just not possible to be positive all the time and it’s exhausting to try. Please be as compassionate with yourself as you are with your loved ones. You deserve it. Take good care.

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