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The opposite of positive thinking is not negative

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

I often write that friends shouldn’t tell cancer patients to “be positive.” It gives the patient one more thing to worry about. “I guess bad things will happen if I’m not positive enough.” Besides, no one in recorded history has become positive because someone told them to be positive.

But it’s important to understand that the opposite of being positive is not being negative.

Instead, it’s being present and being able to experience what is truly happening.

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you’ll have periods of fear, uncertainty, anxiety, depression, relief, gratitude, and peace. Pretty much every emotion of life will enter your consciousness, sometimes all at once.

A friend told me that experiencing all of these emotions makes her feel very much alive. When people tell her to be positive, she wants to shake them and say, “I’d rather co-exist peacefully with my reality.”

She makes a good point. When friends tell you to be positive, they often do so because it makes them feel better.

Her best friends let her experience what she’s truly experiencing without the need to put on a happy face.

I should point out that I’m not at all opposed to positive thinking. I think of myself as a positive person and, if I have a recurrence of cancer, I’m sure that I’ll approach it with a positive mindset.

But I also hope to face it with openness and honesty. Challenges often provide us with the most meaningful moments of our lives.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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