Cancer is terrifying and unfair and enraging; there’s no two ways about it. Still, anyone who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer knows the unspoken pressure to maintain a positive attitude. You also know there are days when you have neither the energy nor the will to play the part of the upbeat, can-do cancer warrior. Sometimes you simply need to allow yourself to grieve. Sometimes, amidst all the messages of strength and positive affirmation, you need a reminder that it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be angry as hell. There’s so much uncertainty that comes with a cancer diagnosis, but one thing is for sure: there is no single right way to feel. Your feelings will likely even shift from one day to the next.
Your Grief Is Justified
Like anything that unexpectedly changes the trajectory of our lives, it’s completely normal to mourn the life you imagined for yourself and your family. It’s okay to feel heartache over disrupted plans, to wish you still had the ability to take trivial things for granted. You may be an optimist by nature and surprised by your feelings of anger, guilt, and just straight-up sadness. Maintaining an optimistic outlook in life is great, but when you experience something traumatic like a cancer diagnosis, it’s also okay to allow yourself time to process and adjust. Acknowledge the entirety of your emotional experience — negative feelings and all — and do it unapologetically. Your feelings are valid, whatever they are.
Positivity Isn’t A Synonym Of Strength
Let’s talk about our favorite frenemy, toxic positivity — the pressure to minimize, hide, or deny one’s negative emotions during distress, especially with overgeneralized platitudes. It’s one thing to feel internal pressure to remain upbeat and positive, but social messages to “keep calm and cancer on” would grate on anyone’s nerves. Too often in conversations about breast cancer, positivity is conflated with strength. We’re here to tell you that regardless of what all the inspirational quotes and hyper-pink greeting cards may say, you can be strong and sad at the same time. Once more with feeling: You can be strong and sad at the same time.
Your Grief Does Not Make You Weak
Conversely, being sad does not make you weak. Taking time to process grief is not the same as giving up. Being angry or sad about your diagnosis doesn’t negate your strength or make you any less worthy of healing. In fact, sadness can actually be good for you. It’s no secret that crying is cathartic — who among us hasn’t experienced the relief that follows a good cry?
You’re Allowed To Rest
Stay strong! Kick cancer’s ass! You’ve got this! These are the well-intentioned rallying cries that typically accompany a breast cancer diagnosis. We literally say we’re battling cancer — we’re fighting it. There’s no doubt whatsoever that you’re a strong goddess warrior queen, but even goddess warrior queens need rest. Between the logistics of arranging and managing a treatment plan and actually undergoing the treatment, cancer is physically and emotionally exhausting. Don’t forget to let yourself rest between battles.
You Don’t Owe Anyone A Happy Face
Surround yourself with people who listen, stay present, and let you feel however you need to feel in the moment. Let friends and loved ones know that they can help you best by meeting you where you are. Give yourself permission to minimize your time with toxic (and toxically positive) people. The idea that you need to ignore your sadness is destructive, and people who perpetuate that idea aren’t helping as much as they likely think they are. You do not owe anyone your perpetual optimism.
Self-care and support groups can certainly help mitigate the mental health impact of your diagnosis, but a positive attitude can’t cure cancer, and the pressure to maintain one isn’t going to help your stress levels. Of course, none of this is meant to dismiss the days when you feel hopeful and happy — you deserve to absolutely revel in that joy! But you also deserve to cry and scream and sleep and write angry journal entries whenever you feel moved to do so. The point is, there really is no right way to feel when you have breast cancer — whatever you feel, it’s yours, it’s valid, and you’re allowed to feel it.
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