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!


South Georgia Redneck

Comment on February 29th, 2008.

It has been going on for thousands of years because we are still just simple minded humans. We use the cliche’s to make us feel better because so many times we feel helpless and want everyone to smile. I would say and will say to anyone to continue to fight for a positive outlook because it does have healing powers. Laughter helps…it heals…it feels good. My mom is a 7 year survivor to date and it had a lot to do with her attitude. Yes, I know that God is all powerful and is in full command, but he wants us to be reflections of him which is…positive…believers…fighters. I agree with your responsibilities and thoughts, however, even though we are a world away, a world without dopey isn’t a world I want to think about just yet! You have always been a role model to me through your faith and your strength. Cheers to the fighters…


Comment on February 29th, 2008.

Cam, I’m sorry to say I don’t think the most of the positive comments said(or posted) are for your benefit. I think when most people are presented with what they know to be a difficult situation then the “stick your head in the sand” approach seems to work best. Hence we generally just say something nice and positive to “you” and hope that at that point in time we don’t have to address the reality of the situation ourselves. That’s what happens when the thought of something upsets us, yes, even us big tough blokes. It is easier to pretend everything will be fine and move onto the next subjet.
I will make a concerted effort to “keep it real” when I see you from now on and try and act genuinly suprised that you are still breathing and say things like “You look dreadful”.

As a side thought I don’t think it is in your or Lib’s nature to be anything other than positive, that’s just how you both are, your current situation just makes it shine through.


Comment on February 29th, 2008.

As you well and truly realise – there are no guarantees in life.

Sometimes anticipatory grief just hovers around and makes us aware of how fragile things really are – no matter how “positive” a person is.

You can still retain this so called positivity – but by all means be realistic at the same time. Can one really function without the other?? I think not.

To openly communicate about fears and worries and to get your house in order (so to speak) is a natural progression and is vital in the rational thought processes for you both.

To acknowledge the reality of your own situation is in itself positive and realistic – and only when the penny finally drops can you deal with the day to day confrontation of your illness.

This doesn’t mean on one hand bury your head in the sand and try to grind through each day with gritted teeth nor does it mean shouting from the rooftops that everything is going to be okay – because the reality of it is far more daunting than that.

Having hope and the courage of your convictions will carry you both through the darkest hours until the dawn.
You have both already learnt so much about life – what is it that they say – “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”

Strength comes from inside and from the people around you. Seems to me like you both have a clear vision of reality – going into it all with eyes wide open, not eyes wide shut.

Spread the word – more people could do with hearing it.



Comment on February 29th, 2008.

South Georgia Redneck, you know the good side and the dark side of me more than most, and I can honestly say that a lot of my profound realisations of humanity and faith have come about through nutting out situations I got myself into whilst in the Blue Ridge Mtns with you being honest with me. Forever grateful I will be for you and the gracious crew I had the privilege of sharing our lives with over those years.
How’s the pickup and moonshine still, by the way?

Tentring, I agree, and I can understand why people’s responses are ‘safe’. I am sure i have ripped out a few cliches in my time to make me feel better or because lack of time limited my ability to articulate what mattered to the other person. I find it difficult to know what to say to people who rip out the comments to be honest. It can be confronting to reply with a “Did you actually think about what you just said” or “What is that cliche based on?” or “Do you really believe what you just said?” It may be time to start responding that way – could be helpful.

Lynda, thanks for the encouragement. I have got a whole bank of writings that I may be prepared to put up now. Stay tuned.

guy is the "I'm a Cam fan" t-shirt

Comment on February 29th, 2008.

Out of all the writings I’ve read on pain and suffering, this one ranks up there with the best. Wisdom like you wouldn’t believe.

I hope everyone out there realises I am related to this man. That is, without dispute, my greatest claim to fame.


Comment on February 29th, 2008.

You, Oh Hyper-dressing cousin, along with the swag of other fam we share, have the same admiration from me for you all. We are a special unit, and will no doubt end up in one at some stage. Whatever Nana Brown put in the apricot chicken worked. This is also true of the other side of my family, but Grandma Harris was more of a grated apple, orange juice and sugar kind of woman. Not sure where this cuisine evolved from, but it’s good to have a range of influences.

Dippity aged 8

Comment on March 1st, 2008.

Well said, Tiger! Job would have given you a big hug (but taking care of your sternum too). BTW you are now a pin-up on our fridge. Yesterday’s home-delivered West :-) had all my usual heroes – Ginger, Jeremy, and Calvin – and (definitely the best) Cam the Tiger. Will Cam replace Hobbes?? (BTW to Uncle Cavan, the book you gave me a few centuries ago Christ the Tiger is still a favourite.) Love and blessings.


Comment on March 1st, 2008.

“I know that we all die and it is the way things are meant to be in this fallen world, usually when we’re old. But if we could choose how and when, it would never happen, we would keep putting it off, and as there are no 200 year old Christians around, then I figure it happens to us, too.”

Written last May before my Dad died. We’re there again, with Mum this time. How blessed we are to have a faith and future glimpse of eternity but the pain and grief is just as real as for anyone else – of course.

My Mum approaches each day with a bright attitude and feels fulfilled and at peace when she settles at night. She desires complete authenticity, as she too, is able to share her thoughts and feelings with honesty and grace. She said she is content and will wake up tomorrow, either in bed or in heaven.

Even Jesus lived life fully until He died, and had talked openly about it with his friends and family (who didn’t get it at the time). What better teacher could we have?
You are a voice of truth in our generation.

Bonnie & Mark

Comment on March 1st, 2008.

Dear Cam & Elizabeth,
Thankyou so much for sharing with us your moments of happiness & sadness. We love you. You were on my mind at 3am the other day so I spent some time praying. Thankyou again for inspiring and real things to think about.
Lots of Love Bonnie Mark & Levi


Comment on March 1st, 2008.

Dear Cameron and Elizabeth,
I have been taking the time out to read your blog from the beginning. I am amazed as I read.
It’s lovely to sit here across Australia today and read what you wrote just yesterday.
For me (80yrs with advanced cancer), it is so pertinent and I identify with every word you shared. You express what my tired old brain couldn’t come out with.

I so much appreciate your honesty – spiritually, physically and emotionally. I appreciate your expressing what my own inner feelings reflect, but I haven’t been able to convey it in words. I feel connected and privileged to share some of your journey. Keep the flow free, who know where the tributaries may run….


Comment on March 1st, 2008.

Hi Cam. not sure what i want to write except that, in my experience, the ‘darker’ side of life is one to be truely valued and to an extent embraced. and maybe it’s just a label that we put on it to say that its dark or ‘negative’. having tried to run away from ‘pain’ for most of my life and only now really turning around honestly and attempting to face it, i’m finding that life is becoming much deeper. not necessarily more fun, though. but who said fun was better.

i remember at my brothers funeral, i was surrounded by people who didn’t know what to say to me, and someone who, unfortuneately for them, happened to come face to face with me suddenly realised they should have a stab at offering some words of comfort, said…”it’s a bit sad, isn’t it?”….as though my icecream had just fallen on the ground. as much as i wanted to laugh in their face and say ‘are you kidding me!?!’, i also knew they were so out of reach of knowing what to do or say, that i kind of just nodded and left it at that. there was a very real moment of comtemplation of making them face the reality of what was actually going on, but it could have got ugly and i decided it wasn’t the day for any more suffering. not that the point of that story was saying you shouldn’t be real with people – just sharing a common understanding with you, i guess.

i also know that before i had experienced such a real connection to death, i was completely shit scared of ever approaching the subject with anyone that was dealing with it, for fear of sending them into the depths of depression or the depths of ‘reality’-as if they hadn’t ever thought of facing it. of course now i feel, that often by avoiding these things we just send people to the depths of isolation. there were very few people who ever wanted to talk to me about my brothers death, and eventually you avoid the subject yourself because you don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable. it’s as though the most major thing that has ever taken place in your life has to be silenced for the benefit of everyone around you. i guess that’s why am so appreciative of your blogs. you can say what ever is on your mind and no-one can change the subject. and if people feel uncomfortable – tough!

one of the wonderful things that changed for me working as a nurse, was that i was no longer scared to talk to my patients about the reality of the situations they were facing in hospital. and i can truely say, for someone that never really loved being a nurse, the best part of the job was when people shared their most vulnerable sides of them just coz they were allowed to. what a priviledge to be part of people lives in this way!

anyway…… that’s enough of my ramblings all about me. Thanks for sharing you Cam!


Comment on March 1st, 2008.

Allison, your comments read like a song. I am not surprised. I remember the depth of understanding you showed at an early age because of your experiences. That has never left you, and it has always spoken to me. So there.
Thank you for speaking honestly and beautifully. You all over.


Comment on March 1st, 2008.

Cam, I once had a conversation with another diabetic friend of mine about living with chronic conditions and the long-term complications/implications that go along with that. I said that the only difference between us and other people was that we KNEW we were walking timebombs. Other people are allowed to stroll through life unaware of that. I loved what you wrote and think that positivity that glares into the future unblinkered, unshielded and unabashed is the only kind of positivity worth pursuing. I think you and Elizabeth are amazing. I feel so enriched by your insights into your world and thank you for being so honest and open about your journey. Lots of love, s


Comment on March 1st, 2008.

Stephanie, it is the hanging out with honest ones willing to share what is really going on in their lives that stirs me. So thank you.

Natalie Wolfe

Comment on March 1st, 2008.

Cam, I had the enourmous pleasure of meeting your parents today, who told me about this website and of your journey. These two people spoke of you with enourmous pride and I was touched by the parental love that oozed from them. I have had a read of some of your recent posts and am in awe of your remarkable attitude towards your situation. With regard to “positive attitudes” it is my personal belief that we each owe ourselves more than just a positive attitude. That we owe it to ourselves to live our very best life, no matter how long or short that life may be, that we recognise every day what we are grateful for and that we inspire other people to live their best lives. This website encompasses all of that and so much more.

So I now become a part of your journey, an avid reader of your website.

And I love that in your picture on the website, your not wearing any shoes. I hate shoes!

Big hugs to you … Natalie xx


Comment on March 2nd, 2008.

Hi Cam – I look forward to seeing your picture in the paper ! Ironically another friend is in the same issue something to do with Mardi Gras. The library at work keeps a copy of the daily papers so I will run a few copies off for you. We can copy in colour and can even blow it up for you if you like :-)

P.S. If you are not writing something prolific for all of us to learn from, you are working at the shop or working out at the gym or building decks ! You are a talented, thoughtful human being as is your gorgeous wife !


Comment on March 3rd, 2008.

Hi Cam. I was going to try and be profound but in the light of what you’ve written, I”ll just be myself. Ive always known that the Harris’ are amazing people ( you Brown’s are great too) Whenever I open up the www for Mum to read your blog we always say to each other, why does such a thing happen to such a great guy and family? Knowing the question doesn’t have an answer.

I can only echo what “Joan” (7 comments back) said in her last paragraph. Already the tributaries are going all over the world. I’ve given your blog address to two people I know who are going through cancer treatment.

Why is it that you are the one with the sickness and yet you are the one so able to cheer and brighten so many peoples’ day? You really do have a gift.

I too feel privelaged to be related to you.

PS Where can we get the “I’m a Cam fan” T-shirts?

Aunty Lynne

Comment on March 3rd, 2008.

Hi Cameron. We approach the throne of grace with prayers and petitions daily for you… God hears our ramblings, but I struggle to put words down for you. We are keeping in touch through your blog.

We have a wonderful hope, a future with Christ, which is worth clinging to.

Love Aunty Lynne


Comment on March 4th, 2008.

Hi Cam,I am wondering if you would be interested in logging on to Randy Pausch’s last lecture and his subsequent medical journey (for want of a better way to express it).
Best wishes


Comment on March 4th, 2008.

There you go again, inspiring everyone and being a brittle-chested hero… !!!

I’m really taken with your current writing… it’s ‘real’ (could you be anything but?) with a solid mix of the subjective and objective; with hope that is founded in reality.

Oh – and did you just call Jimmy-shirt-man a unit?

Your writing is obviously about health/illness, but the principles are doing great stuff for me in regards to other life-stuff as well… I don’t think there is a single person who wouldn’t benefit from reading it.

You seem to keep putting one foot in front of the other… I guess it wouldn’t be much of a journey if you didn’t…

nice work!

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