Today three of my closest friends came over for lunch, bringing food and cheer with them. On the initiative of my dearest and oldest friend, they organised the shopping and co-ordinated diaries to arrange a Sunday lunchtime treat for me. It was just lovely.
As you would expect, we chatted about all sorts, including my latest health news. As the conversation twisted and turned, I was reminded of the various health troubles that each of these fantastic women has had to go through. One has battled with anorexia which, to this day, leaves an imprint on her life. The second nearly died from a congenital heart defect during an episode which turned her life upside down and made her “normal” anything but. And the third has faced aggressive breast cancer head on, with several hideous consequences, and has the added burden of a close family member with an impossible health situation. I voiced out loud my admiration for the way they have all dealt with their own crises and my sadness at the fact that each of us, before the age of 40, has had to battle so many demons. We all agreed that life as a grown-up is tough and that, although some people seem to breeze through, you never know what goes on behind closed doors.
While some people choose to keep their problems behind those doors, others find comfort in sharing them. This blog is a great example of that. Writing it all down helps me define and face what I am feeling, thinking and fearing. I am well aware that there are hundreds if not thousands of other breast cancer patients who are blogging and I don’t pretend what I am saying or doing is particularly different or special. But it helps me. I also hope that it gives some comfort to others who might be in a similar situation and come across the blog. This solidarity is so important to me that it brings me out from behind my closed door to share my story with others.
It is with a similar aim that a breast cancer friend of mine, Sarah, has set up a blog site for breast cancer patients who do not have their own blog. The aim is to allow women to share their stories, to help them express themselves and also to act as a source of comfort for new patients who find similarities between their situation and those of others on the blog. Sarah has described this as “positivity”, in that she sees the aim of her site as helping others to share their experiences of breast cancer and so gain positivity from each other. This has generated more than a little bit of controversy on Twitter. Sarah’s idea has been criticised as “pinkwashing” and some breast cancer patients have voiced the view that there are too many positive stories out there and not enough focus on the realism of the situation. These people are angry at their diagnosis and what it means for their life. They argue that having breast cancer is not a positive experience and should not be dressed up as such.
I think these people have missed the point. I should know – I have stage IV breast cancer and and therefore classed as “incurable”. There is nothing positive in this situation, although I personally have had some positive experiences as a result of my diagnosis. But there is a big difference between saying that an experience is positive and saying that the experience may generate positivity. I do not feel positive about having incurable cancer. I do feel that positivity in my approach to dealing with the disease and in talking with others who are suffering from the same disease is an important weapon in my arsenal. Feeling angry or hurt or resentful about my disease is a waste of energy. My energy is better spent on fighting the disease, on visualising my desired outcome, on looking into new possible treatments, on spending valuable time with my family and friends, on creating brilliant memories, on having fantastic experiences. Most of all, on living. This is what I mean by positivity. And I want to be open about this. I want to share it. I want others to know that it is possible to face this disease in a way that combines good thoughts with realism. I do not want to keep my positivity behind closed doors.