The Positivity Paradox

Stay positive! Everyone has their own beliefs when it comes to unproven cancer fighters. There are some beliefs that are rooted in science and seem logical, like people who go vegan to aid in their cancer fight. Makes sense right? Eating veggies is healthy, having cancer is unhealthy, ergo eating veggies counteracts cancer. I have no idea if there is any data backing this but it’s a reasonable jump to make. Then there are personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science. For example, I’m not just a little stitious, I’m superstitious. I have been my whole life and having cancer has only heightened it. If someone says “see you tomorrow” I’ll respond with “yeah I’ll probably see ya.” Not committing to being alive tomorrow, that could jinx not dying tonight. Or if someone says “this treatment will definitely work” I’ll think “well now you jinxed it so it’s not going to work. Thanks.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this, or maybe I’m a crazy-ass nut job who believes in voodoo nonsense. Who knows.

The point I’m making is that everyone has beliefs about what will and won’t aid in their fight against cancer, and those beliefs can either be science-based and logical or just gut-based and illogical. Well, being positive sort of falls in the middle, right? It’s generally accepted that a positive attitude is helpful in fighting illness, but according to this article I found in 3 seconds of google searching, it seems there’s no scientific proof to back that up. With that being said, I know myself and a whole shit load of other patients are extremely firm believers that positivity breeds results.

This leads me to the issue with positivity, or as I like to call it, the positivity paradox. You see, being positive in the face of impending danger isn’t something you can just choose to do. It’s not a light switch, it’s something you have to truly believe in your heart to be true. So if you can’t convince yourself to believe in a positive outcome, then you’ll probably encounter the issue where you’re trying to be positive but you can’t find it in yourself but you know being positive will help so now you start to get anxiety because you’re unable to be positive and help yourself and you wind up making matters worse for yourself because you’re trying to be positive. Holy cow what a sentence, give me a second to catch my breath here. So in essence, your desire but inability to be truly positive can give you anxiety and make you worse, if not physiologically then at least worse mentally. Because the issue is if you believe positivity will make you better, then it would stand to reason that negativity will make you worse, right?

So why am I saying all of this? Well, I’ve been on both sides of this coin. I’ve experienced the blind optimism that comes with being positive and I’ve experienced the anxiety of not being able to believe in a positive outcome, and I have some suggestions. If you find you are unable to be truly positive, here are a few things I’ve tried that can help ease your anxiety and get you on the path to positivity:

  1. Mindfulness. It can seem like a silly practice to some of us but give it a chance, if you can’t find mental serenity through it then at least it’s a nice way to take a nap. You can also try things like massage, acupuncture, yoga (if you’re not feeling well, yoga nidra is a type of yoga where you do it laying down).
  2. Get a therapist. It can help to talk out your issues and having someone to provide reassurance can be useful. I got a therapist when I started having anxiety attacks before my brain surgery and I’ve stayed with her through it because it’s always nice having her to talk to. Plus it pushes me to take action on stuff because it’s awkward going in for a session and being like “yeah I didn’t try anything you suggested last time. My b.”
  3. Stop doing research. Do you like to google everything and read all sorts of medical articles and WebMD shit? Well stop it. Those are all sources that know nothing about your particular case so just because someone in a clinical trial in 1986 had a certain reaction doesn’t mean you will too. Research can be a double-edged sword cause on one hand, you might read about miracle cases of people who should’ve died but didn’t. You might also read about someone who was fine and then suddenly kicked the bucket. I like to avoid running the risk of the latter by just not googling anything about cancer.
  4. Talk to your doctor. If you’re looking for reassurance, talk to your doctor. Maybe they’ve had another patient who was where you are and had positive results. Maybe (s)he can suggest a nice anxiety med to make you feel good. Who knows? Always worth asking though.
  5. Sign up for GRYT. This is an app I found the other day that allows you to connect with other cancer patients in your area or around the world whom have a similar diagnosis as you. I personally found a bunch of other stage IV synovial sarcoma folks around the country when I’ve previously only ever met one other person with my diagnosis and he died the following week. Was a real bummer, he was a nice guy. Regardless, the app lets you chat with people in the same spot as you so they can offer support specific to your situation.

Positivity can be tricky, and it’s not as easy as we would all like. “Keep your chin up” is a nice sentiment but the elevation of my chin probably won’t affect my chances against cancer. Do your best to keep your mind in a good place, and if you are having trouble, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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