Meredith Rock is a writer who lives in Kent, Washington, with her husband Matthew and 14-year-old dog Ruby. She enjoys birding in her spare time and loves working with companion animals as a volunteer foster parent. You can follow Meredith on her blog.
Last year, my husband Matt and I drove to a park in Seattle, Washington. As we walked to a wooded area, I noticed a blurry spot on the left side of my vision that gradually turned into a larger crescent with jagged edges that were moving and flashing. Bewildered and disoriented, I told Matt, who led me back to the car.
I contacted my neurologist, who suggested a computed tomography (CT) scan. The scan showed something in my brain that an ensuing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan confirmed, so my neurologist sent me to see a neurosurgeon. The neurosurgeon flipped through images of my brain, cross-sectioned like sliced ham, and pointed out a whitish blob without defined edges. She said that although they weren't sure what it was, it could not be fully removed with surgery due to its proximity to my brain stem.
Upon getting this news, there was plenty to be negative about. I'm only 37. I just got married last year, and we had wanted to start a family. It felt like horrible timing. But Matt and I talked and decided to expect the best outcome. We tried our best to think positive thoughts and assume it was only inflammation. As someone who's struggled with anxiety and depression my whole life, I'm not a poster child for positive thinking. But over the years, I have been able to find coping mechanisms, and facing this new challenge pushed me to remember what strategies I had in my toolbox.
We eventually decided on surgery to ease my headaches and get a biopsy of the area. About 10 days later, my oncologist told us that it was grade II astrocytoma. In other words, it was the “big C”: brain cancer.
At first, it was hard to believe that our positive intentions hadn't worked. I even blamed myself for not being positive enough. But eventually, I realized that it wasn't something I could completely control. Despite the shock we experienced, Matt and I ultimately decided to continue trying to think positively.
A couple of weeks after my surgery, my oncologist asked if my surgeon had mentioned the "spot" on my post-surgery MRI. Confused, I said no. "There's what we call an enhancement, which could just be a leaky blood vessel, or an indication that the cancer has spread,” my oncologist said. I felt too emotionally tired to react, but Matt and I discussed our plan of action. While recovering from the surgery, I vividly imagined the doctor telling me that this "spot" had disappeared without explanation. Matt did the same.
My next MRI was a few weeks later, followed by an appointment with the radiologist to discuss the scan and potential treatment. A polite, friendly woman with dark hair knocked gently on our door, introduced herself, and got to the results. "That spot we saw has disappeared, and we're not really sure why,” she said.
I was blown away. Matt and I smiled behind our masks and shot knowing looks at each other. It seemed to us like our positive intentions had worked this time, and we were thrilled to receive some good news.
What has helped me think positively during cancer
It hasn't been sunshine and rainbows since getting my diagnosis, but I still believe in the law of attraction. I believe that if I think more positive thoughts, I will attract more of the positive things I want in life. I can't do this 100% of the time, but in my experience, thinking this way as much as possible has yielded positive results.
Grade II astrocytoma is considered slow-growing, and I don't have to have further treatment unless an MRI shows that the tumor has grown. Because of this, I can focus on the emotional aspects of my diagnosis without the physical trauma of treatment. I also have a loving and supportive husband and family who have stayed positive throughout this challenging time.
If you have received a difficult diagnosis, here is a list of things that have helped me think positively throughout my experience.
1: Getting therapy.
Therapy gave me the opportunity to talk to a professional in a safe, private space. Most therapists are empathetic listeners, and you might be surprised by just how much it helps to discuss what you're going through. Talk with your doctor about starting counseling and finding a therapist near you.
2: Decreasing or eliminating social media time.
If you tend to compare yourself to others like I do, I found this to be essential. You can freeze your accounts instead of permanently deleting them, or you can change the notification settings on your phone so you won't be prompted to log on whenever someone posts or comments.
3: Consuming only positive media.
My therapist gets credit for this one, and it's made a huge difference in my attitude. This includes avoiding TV news for most people. Instead, I recommend watching TV and movies that make you laugh.
4: Doing whatever makes you happy, whenever you can.
I like doing almost anything involving animals, which currently involves birding and fostering kittens. Make a list of the things you enjoy and try to do them more often in your spare time. I’ve also found that if you're feeling depressed, just going outside can often help.
5: Living in the moment.
I found there are many small things you can do to help bring you back to the present. For example, look closely at flowers or anything else you find beautiful. Pay attention to the way your dog or cat's fur feels when you pet them. Or breathe deeply and enjoy hugging someone you love.
6: Keeping a "positivity journal."
My therapist gets kudos here, too. After my cancer diagnosis, I started writing down things that I was grateful for, that I found inspiring, or that made me smile or laugh every day. This prompted me to really look for and think about the good in my life. A journal app on your phone can make this easy.
I know that I am only at the beginning of my cancer journey, and the advice of “staying positive” might seem glib coming from someone who hasn't been exactly where you are. But I’ve found that our minds can be incredibly powerful in pushing us towards better health.
Those of us who have been diagnosed with cancer have been reminded of just how fragile life is. That is a perspective that many people don't have. Through cancer, I’ve learned to relish every moment, and even when things don’t turn out exactly the way I want them to, I’ve found that I can still fall in love with life in the meantime.
The author has no relationships relevant to this content to disclose.