Positivity Is Great, But How Do You Get There?

People always ask me how I was able to stay positive during my walk through cancer. It’s a question I would ask especially if I hadn’t gone through it myself. We all have setbacks—some huge and others insignificant–but knowing what you’re made of when the chips are down is a question some of us haven’t answered yet.

And that’s okay; we can get a glimpse of what’s possible from others. I shared one of those glimpses with my friend and colleague Allison Marketti who has her own podcast, and she helped me resurface some of those answers so I’m passing them onto you.

Allison read a passage from my book that was dated December 21. It was my diagnosis day. This is what I said about cancer in 2013:

This is a gift. A gift to show myself how strong I am and how powerful I can be over what is just another obstacle. I’ve faced obstacles before. I will hurdle over this one with grace like I have the others. Should I stumble and fall, occasionally, as surely one might when fighting something like this, then I will laugh at myself first and then pick myself up … I am ready. I am armed with a mind and determination to do anything. And I’m not afraid to cry; tears are how the fear leaks out.

Allison asked “How did you come to a place where you wrote these words?” Again, such a great question, and here’s is the answer:

Explore potential role models. My mother was fighting terminal cancer when I diagnosed my Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was the type of person who never complained about anything in her life. When I’d call her and say, “How are you?” She’d say, “Fabulous.” Then I’d say, “How are you feeling?” And she’d reply, “Cured!” Neither of those things was true, but it was our unspoken understanding that this was how she chose to live and turned her six-month life expectancy into more than eight.

The strength she demonstrated her whole life was an incredible example for me, so the prospect of calling her and my dad to share my diagnosis and play the victim was out of the question. I modeled her fiercely positive outlook throughout my own journey, and I’m grateful for her example. Your role models don’t have to be family members; they can be anyone you personally know or admire from afar.

Identify the support you need to manage your mental well-being. I’m a firm believer in talking to your “armchair therapists”—also known as friends—and certified professionals too. I had therapy earlier in my life because I was involved in an unhealthy relationship during college. The tools I learned during my sessions were incredibly helpful later in life and during my walk through cancer.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by something in your life or notice consistent patterns in your behavior that work against you, consider talking to a professional about it—but don’t overlook friends in the process. Social connections are the lifeblood of a healthy existence and an essential release valve when things build up. Just make sure they are on the same positive journey; toxic connections can actually suck the life out of you.

Be accountable to others. Interdependency and connection to a community of your own are incredibly powerful. Not only did I have my children’s love and support, but I was determined to be there for them. Professionally, I had been counseling patients about their personal health challenges for years. Living up to my own advice and showing them that my advice was not only possible but something I believed was very meaningful to me. Some patients knew I was walking through cancer; looking back, I missed only one day of work during my treatment because I sprained my knee falling down a flight of stairs and that combined with killing tumors put me over the edge–but only for a day!

Before some of you roll your eyes at what I’m saying, I wasn’t positive 24/7. I had moments lying on my shower floor in tears, asking “Why me?” But after I allowed myself to wallow a bit, I moved on.

I call cancer a gift because it was the wake-up call I needed. I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on around me; I let my busyness take hold of my consciousness. I was on autopilot until this journey lifted my head, and I took notice. Today, I’m living more honestly and intentionally, and I’m a better mother, friend, partner, and doctor for it.

Be positively altered,
Dr. Cindy

P.S. If my conversation with Allison resonates with you, join us! Here’s the recording of Inspired with Allison Marketti. If you want to dig deeper, download my book, Positively Altered or schedule me for your next event where I can speak to your group about resilience on the job and in life.

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