Q. I was told that if I did not have a positive attitude my treatment wouldn't be as effective, or worse, it wouldn't work. Sorry, I just don't feel positive about this whole cancer experience! What can I do?

A.

It is natural that anyone who hears the words “you have cancer” will experience negative feelings. Allowing those feelings to come out is part of the healing process; to deny them can cause even more stress.

A member of a young patient group once said, “I’m a realistic optimist. I’ll do everything I can to beat cancer, but I also want to learn to live with the knowledge that I don’t have full control.” To try and be only positive during a difficult time can be a form of denial, and can hold back valid feelings that need to be expressed.

A simple mind/body technique called Mindfulness is meditation practice which uses the breath as a point of focus for the mind, and can help you acknowledge (in a non-judgmental way) the full range of feelings, both physical and emotional, that can arise. When we have a negative feeling, physical or emotional, there is the tendency to attach blame to it, thereby increasing the suffering. Mindfulness simply recognizes and observes the feeling, letting it happen without being pulled into it. Through Mindfulness, you can embrace that staying positive in the face of cancer includes recognizing and validating all the feelings you are experiencing, negative ones included.

The benefit of mindfulness meditation is that it can be done sitting quietly at home, at work or during daily activities.

Two books on Mindfulness Meditation you may find helpful are Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Hyperion), and Get Out Of Your Mind And Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, by Steven C. Hayes (New Harbinger Publications).