On being positive, hopeful and realistic.

Posted on February 29th, 2008 by Cam.
Categories: Let's talk.

I think out of all the clichés that I have heard about having this illness, most of them have been in reference to a positive attitude. “You have got to stay positive!” – although not technically a cliché, a common response.

I largely agree, but it can’t stop there. It doesn’t guarantee health, it shouldn’t be used to cloud reality, and being realistic should not be confused with being negative.

If cancer didn’t result in death or serious impairment so often, we wouldn’t be taking it so seriously. It is nasty. There are many other sicknesses that are nasty too, so once again, this is not about isolating cancer. I think cancer is often regarded as a high-profile illness when there are many other sicknesses that cause people suffering without the attention and the research funding that is needed. So this issue applies to more than being sick with cancer, or being sick in general.

People that I talk to are quick to pick up on Lib’s and my conveyed positive attitude considering the circumstances. We are positive, but there is a reality that we deal with from day to day that parallels that positivity. In my opinion, it is naive to confuse this dealing with reality with becoming ‘negative’ or losing hope.

We are signing off on our wills this week. Elizabeth filled out the warranty for the dishwasher under her name when usually it would be under mine. Having kids is now an issue as the expectation is that I will be sterile after high-dose chemo (yes, we have stored ‘little Cams’ away for such an outcome, millions in fact). We grieve the loss of mobility, the loss of opportunity, the loss the probability of a long and healthy life. My hair may never have the chance to go grey. It is highly likely I will never hear someone call me Grandpa. I may never get to take advantage of Senior discounts at the movies. This is the reality. My admission of such issues and our dealing with them has bugger-all to do with our positivity.

There are a heck of a lot people who have died who were positive to the very end. They stuck to their guns. Who could tell the ones they left behind that maybe they weren’t positive enough? Remaining positive is important, but I believe it can’t stand on its own.

A positive attitude does an amazing amount in the health and well-being of the sick and the well. I have no doubt about this. But I also believe there is an extreme version of positivity that is nothing more than blatant denial of the seriousness of someone’s predicament. Sickness sucks, as does death, but this is the predicament we have as humans.

After thousands of years of the same thing happening over and over, it would seem that we are still not getting use to this idea. “You’ll be ok!”, “You will get through this, I know you will!”, “I have complete faith that you will be healed”. Have we not learned that these often self-appeasing comments are still echoing in mortuaries, coffins, graves, tombs and pyramids all over the place (though I think most of the echoes in pyramids are in Egyptian), not to mention how they ring in the ears of family and friends left behind.

Sometimes, things aren’t ok. There is nothing wrong with coming to terms with this fact and being wise in our preparation to accept reality. It would be immature, I believe, to think that by dealing with and accepting possible outcomes would jeopardise a positive outlook on our situation. I am not going to die sooner because I accept the fact I need to update my Will or deal with the prospect of unfavorable outcomes. That is where I am at, now.

The important factor for me, therefore, is hope. I know enough about the risks, I know enough about the success stories, and I know enough about the grim aspects of my condition. I know enough to understand the reality of the situation. So I live positively knowing that I have a real hope that things can be better than expected, that miracles are possible, and that I have a superb medical team and support network doing their best to make me old. That makes me ecstatic. Why wouldn’t I be positive? By accepting the reality of the situation every day, I know it is helping us in our grieving in the present, and will help us in the grieving we may face in the future.

A word of caution also that has been on my mind for quite some time. Attaching God and spirituality to such clichés and responses (or verses taken out of context) in such circumstances is seldom helpful. You may know the ones I am on about. “God will work it out” or “You are a Christian, everything will be fine”. I wonder if when God hears this he sighs in disbelief and says “Bollocks! Are they thinking about what they are saying at all? Have they not taken note of what has been going on for the last few thousand years or so? Do you not realise how this kind of language and babbling isolates people? How about you stick with my promises for a while before you go adding my name to feel-good-happy-clappy clichés?” I feel that when people over-spiritualise situations to put a positive spin on them, or justify situations using Gods name, there is a real danger that we can completely miss the point and pull the rug out from under some significant revelations. Worth thinking about.

God, if you are still reading this blog, I would be keen you get your take on this. Hope I didn’t steal your thunder.

We are going to fight this sickness to the death, no doubt. We have great hope that I will get a Senior Citizens Card. This hope exists in the light of the reality of our predicament. I have a faith in a Creator who is merciful and powerful- this doesn’t guarantee I am going to get better. Dealing with the realities of the present and future possibilities doesn’t mean I am going to die sooner. Denying reality is going to remove the opportunity to learn about life and depth of character (both human and divine).

It is time for this thinking to grow up. For God’s sake and for ours, let the reality of situations, the reality of human nature, the reality of the world’s predicament allow us to get a grasp on what is actually going on. Then we may grieve honestly when it’s right to grieve, celebrate when it is right to celebrate, question when we don’t understand and spend some time processing what it means to be positive and hopeful in the light of acknowledging reality.

On other things
ps. Ironic that my debut into the papers is in the football sporting pages. Today’s West Australian, no less, pg 73, no less. It can only get better.
What irks me is that the front page is given over to a bunch of students who got the day off due to teacher strikes. I have been taking a whack-load more days off than them, and I get page 73. Oh, the injustice!


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