How to Honestly Share Your Negative Attitude Toward Cancer

                                                 By Debbie Woodbury, Cancer Hope Network Volunteer


“It is very important to generate a good attitude, a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come.”  Dalai Lama

During the early days of my diagnosis and treatment, I often ran into the “have a positive attitude no matter what” message, which is not to be confused with the choice to never give up hope. New to cancer, I interpreted the positive attitude message to require me to put on a smiley face no matter what I was feeling inside.

Although I didn’t agree with the “be positive all the time” credo, I did struggle with how to express my sometimes negative attitude toward cancer to others. After my mastectomy, my husband and I had plans to see friends, but I told him I wasn’t up for socializing. My reason wasn’t physical. I was emotionally exhausted from telling people I was fine when they asked me how I was doing. I felt like I was lying all the time and I just didn’t want to do it again.

My husband told me very simply to tell the truth. It was a radical idea because I dreaded letting others see my emotional struggle. I also felt I was through the worst part of my treatment and should be moving on. Wow! Does that mean I felt I hadn’t suffered enough to have earned the right to have a negative attitude toward cancer once in a while?

I guess so, because I sure felt deserving after an earlier, difficult experience. My younger sister and I went through infertility and miscarriages at the same time. When we both finally got pregnant, we approached giving birth in exactly the same way. I remember our adamant discussions about our “right” to skip the joys of natural childbirth.

We both felt strongly that we had suffered enough through infertility treatments and had “earned” the right to give birth blissfully drugged and pain-free. We were fine with our bad attitudes because we felt it was entirely unnecessary to put ourselves through any more pain. We had suffered enough.


Despite my inability to see my cancer experience in the same way, I took my husband’s advice. I was standing in my friends’ kitchen when they asked the inevitable question, “How are you doing?” I told them the truth about how difficult I was finding the emotional healing (not to mention the physical healing from a mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction.) Their empathetic support and compassion actually surprised me. Although I had been sharing my negative attitude toward cancer with my oncology therapist, I didn’t trust my friends and family with my feelings. Realizing that they could handle my less than positive spin on cancer was eye opening and liberating.


It’s certainly important to be as positive as you can, whenever you can. It just doesn’t seem possible for anyone to have a good attitude toward cancer all of the time. To even try is exhausting and an unreasonable burden to place on yourself. Even the Dalai Lama only encourages a good attitude, “as much as possible.”  When you just can’t be positive, don’t. Be honest with the people who love you. If you give people a chance to be supportive, you might be as surprised as I was at how beautifully they come through for you.


What do you think about being positive and having a good attitude all of the time? Is it possible? If not, how do you handle sharing your “bad” attitude with others?


Originally published on WhereWeGoNow.


Debbie Woodbury is the founder of WhereWeGoNow, a gathering place for survivors creating inspired healing, wellness and live out loud joy beyond cancer. Debbie is the author of You Can Thrive After Treatment and How to Build an Amazing Life After Treatment, a Huffington Post blogger, an inspirational speaker, a support volunteer with The Cancer Hope Network, a member of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center Oncology Community Advisory Board, a patient educator with the Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project, a wife and mother, and a former very stressed out lawyer. Debbie was honored to be quoted in CURE Magazine in Survivor Defined and Seeing Red: Coping with Anger During Cancer. You can also find Debbie on Twitter and Facebook.


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