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Life Redefined: Feeling is Healing

Post Published: 12 October 2010
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Category: Column, Life Redefined, Thyroid Cancer in Young Adults Column
This post currently has 11 responses. Leave a comment

As you’ve lived with disease, have you ever had friends or family members tell you to stay positive? That everything is going to be okay?

The day I was diagnosed with cancer, one of my uncles called me. He told me, “You are going to be fine. Everything is going to be okay.”

I had another friend email me and say, “This is just going to be a blip on the radar.”

I was talking to another friend shortly after I was diagnosed, and she said, “Thyroid cancer is easy to treat. This is just not going to be a big deal for you.”

I understand that they were all speaking to me out of a desire to encourage me. They all felt that I needed to embrace positivity. Here’s the thing, though. After each of those conversations, I felt worse. Instead of feeling warm and fuzzy as was intended, each person left me feeling invalidated. And besides, how did they know I was going to be okay? Why did they have the right to suggest to me that cancer was not going to be a big deal?

I’ve come to understand that some people deal with hardship by staying positive all the time. I’ve also come to understand that I do not operate that way AT ALL. Not even a little bit. I don’t mean that I’m a “the glass is always half empty” kind of person, but for me personally, it is not healthy to embrace positivity all the live-long day.

I have cancer. Nothing about that exactly screams festive and therefore I don’t wear my party hat all the time. For me to actually live my life, I find facing reality head-on to be more cathartic. Right after I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t want to be surrounded with choruses of “Cheer Up, Charlie.” I wanted to CRY and I wanted friends and family to cry with me.

When I get ready for a scan or other important appointment, I don’t prepare by thinking, “I am cancer-free. I am rid of cancer. Everything is okay.” I prepare by thinking about the facts and ALL the possible outcomes. I know I’m going to feel anxious and scared as I wait for the results. And that’s normal. That’s okay. Those feelings remind that I’m still human; I’m still alive. I’ve learned that if I surround myself with people who support me through those feelings, I can move on to the next phase of healing much quicker.

Another cancer survivor once said, “My goal as someone living in cancer’s shadow is not always to be positive.” If there is anything living with cancer has taught me it’s that we have a wide range of emotions for a reason. When I allow myself to actually feel those emotions I am allowing myself to heal. When cancer makes me want to cry, I cry. And those tears are healing tears. When cancer makes me angry, I slam doors and punch walls. When I am happy in spite of cancer, I laugh and make jokes. However, if I never allow myself to cry those healing tears, I will never be able to laugh.

ALL of our emotions are valid and ALL of our emotions are important in healing and living. It is okay to cry when you’re sad. Just remember that sadness is just one of the emotions we are gifted with. There is nothing weak about crying but continue to move through your range of emotions–keep moving forward after the tears. It’s okay to be happy even though you’re living with disease. Allow yourself to experience those moments of joy for they are just as healing as the tears. Surround yourself with people who will support you and feel with you instead of trying to force feelings upon you.

That’s what Dear Thyroid is about; that’s the kind of community you’ve helped to create—we cry together, we laugh together, and we heal together.

Xs and Os,

Joanna

What is healing for you? Do you like to stay positive all the time? Do you find crying to be healing? What works for you?

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11 Responses to “Life Redefined: Feeling is Healing

  1. Alexa says:

    Joanna,

    This is so well written, and I’m right there with you–every word. After cancer I became more sensitive and more able to express myself, whether through crying or another heavy emotion like.. happiness. Things effect me differently now, and I feel like we have gained a new set of eyes on the world. I’d like to quote a passage from Elizabeth Edwards’ book Resilience that I read days after my surgery last year:

    “Today made no sense at all; I had no frame of reference. How would I ever make sense of tomorrow? The world collapses, and nothing we can do makes any difference whatever. Why did we do everything right? Why did we learn? Here, now, when we need the reward and when we need the ability to move an admittedly large mountain, we discover we are totally impotent and totally without grace. We are spread on the floor unable to stand. Resilience seemed like a ludicrous world only uttered by those who had never felt so at sea.”

    WOW. Some days I feel like this, sometimes I get mad at people who tell me everything is going to be fine and work out. No, we don’t know. I wish I could know that my cancer would never come back, but it could. It could strike again; or something else to me or someone I love. All of us survivors and those with chronic illness have to live with this.

    Most days I am happy, but some days I cry. I feel things more than I used to and I can understand the world better. It sounds like you are very at peace with yourself, this is something that can be hard to attain at times.

    Love you,

    Alexa : ) xxxxx

    • Alexa, your outlook on life is so beautiful. You’re so right–cancer has given us a new set of eyes. We see things differently. I think living with disease gives you a better idea of what is important in life.

      I love the quote you shared. You know, sometimes call me brave for living with cancer, but I’m not. I don’t feel brave. I don’t feel resilient. Like all of us here, I’m just trying to figure out how to get out of bed each morning and LIVE.

      Keep feeling. Keep fighting for peace in your life.

      Love you back!!
      Joanna

  2. Clare says:

    What an amazing article. I wish you all the best and send you love. X

  3. DrEricO says:

    I definitely agree that you should surround yourself with people who will support you and feel with you, which definitely isn’t an easy thing to do. The people you interact with can definitely affect your attitude, as well as your recovery. Thanks for sharing your story!

    Dr. Eric

  4. Graves Situation says:

    Unconsciously, people are telling you not to worry so THEY don’t have to worry with you. We Americans are practitioners of magical thinking- if you just keep a smile on your face, it’ll all be OK. If you live a good, clean life you won’t be stricken with illness. If the unthinkable does happen, we move to the stories about brave people who fought the cancer fight with valor, good cheer, and perfect make-up.

    Most thyroid cancers are quite contained and haven’t metastasized, so they usually are treated successfully. This doesn’t mean that the diagnosis is insignificant. Treatment for thyroid cancer isn’t insignificant, either. Surgery, radiation, getting replacement hormones balanced, it IS a big deal. And then, as you point out, there’s always the threat of a recurrence,no matter how unlikely, hanging over your head. Probably the biggest thing to come to terms with is the loss of innocence. Yup, bad stuff does happen, even to YOU.

    Life, especially life with a chronic illness or cancer, isn’t some damned Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. No, you don’t have to be strong and sunny for everyone else. Find the friends who hear your news and say, “Well, that just SUCKS, doesn’t it? What can I do to help you through this?” Whether it’s a ride to the doctor’s or coming over to make you tea and tell you silly stories, those are the people you need.

    • Graves Situation–
      You nailed it! Walking around with a smile plastered on my face is NOT going to change the fact that I have cancer. Why should I pretend? The only person that benefits is the person who does not know how to interact with me because I’m living with a disease. I will not fake positivity to make those people’s lives a little less complicated.

      Thanks for sharing!!

      Joanna

  5. ria says:

    Hear hear Joanna!
    So recognizable! So moving! Lovely, lovely post!
    All I just wanna hear sometimes is ‘man, that sucks,’ instead of ‘but knowing you, you’re so strong, you’ll beat it(?) (again)’ … blah

    • Hearing “You’ll beat this; you’re so strong” over and over is tiring, isn’t it?! Comments like that make me feel as though I’m supposed to force a smile all the time. And that’s just not the case, because cancer sucks. Like you, I just want people to agree with me on that point, not try and make me feel like all is right with the world!

      xo,
      Joanna

  6. Nicole Wells says:

    Dear Joanna,

    Thank you so much for hitting the nail on the head. I find that a lot of people throwing the “just think positive” shit over and over at me have a hard time following their own advice. I applaud people who walk around and exuded real positivity, but my patience runs thin with those robotic people who just say “think positive” without considering reality.

    Sometimes the brand of “positive thinking” I get bombarded with reeks of escapist thought. Only after I live in reality can I REALLY start to think positively.

    You rock! xoxoxo,

    Nicole

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