As my regular readers will know, this year is my ‘go for it year.’ It didn’t start so well, as I had a month of bronchitis just after Christmas but still managed to fulfil my commitments. This helped to focus my mind away from negative thoughts and onto all the exciting opportunities that were starting to open up. Now we are at the middle of February and that sense of achievement is growing. People contacting me from around the world with opportunities to improve the landscape for people affected by cancer. Even my own hospital are chasing me to ensure they are at the front of a new service I am involved with. Yes, the positivity is flowing, despite an emergency visit to the dentist with a broken tooth which now needs some complex work and much money spent on it! In days gone by bronchitis followed by the tooth and it’s complexities caused by my treatment, would have me hiding in a darkened room, but not now. I am coming back for more!
This made me think about some of the really early days of my treatment. Constant chemotherapy and then weeks in isolation wondering if I was going to live or die. So many people said “you will be fine if you stay positive.” I must admit I never really felt better after hearing that, and my thoughts were “it’s easy for you to say!” I have always been a positive person throughout my life, but have never really looked at it in the way that it might actually be improving my health. One thing I have learned though, is that someone doesn’t suddenly become positive because you have told them they must be. In fact for someone who doesn’t feel positive in their situation it is probably one of the last things they want to hear.
When you are staring into a ‘black hole’ and all the evidence is also pointing that way, it can be very hard to stay positive. But what makes some of us keep faith and others not? After I was told that it would take anything up to a year to get back on my feet if I survived the treatment, that became my first target. But then, complication after complication came along and I am now eight years into my journey, having lost a lot of things both physically and emotionally, but still feeling positive. Having got past all the major health milestones, which none of us foresaw, has given me some sort of crazy freedom! I am now taking on challenges that I would never have considered when I was even in full health. Cancer and it’s treatment has made me feel empowered, and I have understood what is really valuable to me. In my life I have been very lucky and experienced so many things through my work, so my ‘bucket list’ is a lot shorter than most! My greatest ambition is to be with my wife whilst she works her way through hers, and she is in fabulous health!
Even clinicians point to positivity as a necessary factor when faced with serious medical situations, but I don’t really know what any hard evidence shows. Of course the world looks a better place when seen through rose tinted glasses, but if you don’t have a pair it can seem entirely different. The psychological issues we face once diagnosed with chronic illness can in many cases, be much worse than the treatment itself. We see strong men wilt, but also mild men can appear strong. We have found over the years that our mental health is closely related to our physical health, so we are beginning to look at ‘holistic care’ which in my opinion can be the only effective way forward. Treating the mind and body as one, and us as a whole person and not just a case of medical notes.
“Of course you’re ok, you have PMA” (positive mental attitude) they say. But I haven’t had that all the time! I entered a world of healthcare which I was fortunately unfamiliar with. I had never even spent a night in hospital and quickly I was facing every treatment known to man. Watching as my features changed rapidly, losing my hair, putting on a large increase in weight and unable to keep food down. Just a few side effects to my regime of treatment, not even knowing if after all this I would even survive. During one of my many long spells in hospital they sent in a clinical psychologist. He asked me what was wrong and I said I was fed up! After a brief look though my biblical proportioned notes he replied, “I’m not surprised!”
I have been frequently on and off the ‘positivity train’ since my diagnosis, for long periods of both. It is certainly easy to understand people who struggle. With fabulous people around me, both family and friends, plus a wonderful team of clinicians, my chances are better than some. Within the last year I have had some specialist help to enable me to re-engage with my positive mind. This has had an incredible impact on me, helping me keep focussed on the many positives in my life. Yes there are still plenty of negative things occurring but I can now see them differently.
We will all face periods of negativity in our life, this is indeed normal, and of course facing any challenge with a positive outlook will help you. But it can be unhelpful if you compare yourself to others. We are all facing different challenges at different times, and only you will know what is right for you. Have you struggled to stay positive? How has positivity or lack of, affected your life? As always please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences below.
I am an official support partner of the Grove Hotel in Bournemouth. The only hotel in the UK specifically for people affected by cancer and other life limiting conditions.