The Power of Positivity

By Tami Boehmer

I participated in an interesting Twitter live chat the other night on metastatic breast cancer. This was the first time I had done a live chat and I was interested in hearing other survivors. I and a few other individuals brought up the subject of hope, and I was a little surprised how the conversation turned to impassioned complaints of being pressured to be positive.

Then I read a guest post on a fellow blogger’s site about the same topic. She stated, “Breast cancer has not made me a better person. It has not transformed my life for the better. I have not gotten some insight into a level of spirituality I was hitherto ignorant of. I have not learned to appreciate the little things.” This obviously is a sticking point for many people.

No one should tell anyone how to feel. We all react to things differently, and it can be detrimental to your health to hold in feelings and pretend to be happy when you’re not. But I don’t think this a black- and-white issue.

Do I always feel grateful and happy? Of course not! I’ve had friends die and suffer immeasurably because of this disease. My family and I have suffered, to be sure. But I want people to know there is another side to this – and yes it is … (dare I say it?) positive.

Hi, I’m Tami and I’m a gratefully recovering pessimist.  (“Hi Tami,” the group responds.) I have become an optimist because I choose (choice being the operative word) to remain positive despite negative statistics and reports.

For anyone who has known me for a long time, this would be an unbelievable statement. I had a painful childhood, and I struggled as a young adult to overcome it. I didn’t like myself at all, and I certainly wasn’t accepting of my life as it did not fit the lovely scenario as I envisioned it.  I was often pissed off, fearful and full of self-pity.

The irony is that, although positivity and hope slowly became part of my MO, it was having metastatic cancer that kicked it into full gear. There’s nothing like a strong dose of mortality to make you realize that life is too precious to waste on being miserable.

If I get worried about death or getting sick, I work through it; then get on with living. My lovely daughter has a way of bringing me back into the moment.

For my book, From Incurable to Incredible, I interviewed people from around the country who beat the odds of “terminal” cancer(s). One of the common attributes was having a positive attitude. That doesn’t mean they didn’t feel negative feelings, but their “can-do” attitude played an instrumental role in their healing.

And some research has shown there is a correlation between positivity and healing, including:

A comprehensive study from the Mayo clinic (with 19,781 person-years of observation) showing a 19% higher mortality rate for pessimists over optimists: http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.com/content/75/2/140.full.pdf

A recent (2010) study showing lung-cancer survival being longer with positive attitudes over those with negative attitudes:  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100303131656.htm

At the same time, there are studies that show there’s no correlation, including a recent study, as described by WebMD  http://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20071022/positive-attitude-doesnt-whip-cancer.

But these studies rely on statistics. And you know what I think of them. We’re all unique individuals. Statistics and studies don’t define you and me.

So while there are no guarantees that a positive attitude will help us live longer, it certainly can help us live happier. That is, if these feelings are valid and not something we’re trying to have because people tell us we’re supposed to be positive. Whatever we are feeling at any given time is valid … and important to feel. And about that, I’m positive.

Tami Boehmer is a metastatic breast cancer survivor, speaker, blogger and author of From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds. You can visit her at www.MiracleSurvivors.com.

 

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