by Beverly Bradley
I thought of cancer as a dark cloud over me, so I was determined to find the silver lining in it. I wanted to believe something beneficial could come out of my journey. I hoped I might gain personal insights or be strengthened in some way. I wasn’t sure, of course, but I was willing to look for some ray of light amid dark skies.
I started by looking around for positive things that may have escaped my notice. I made a list, which turned out to be short but substantial. I realized I had met new people who enhanced my life, acquired an increased empathy for others going through difficulties, and learned I had control over my attitude. Perhaps your experience, though entirely different from mine, might have some of the same elements.
Undergoing cancer treatments introduced me to many new people. Whether it was a nodding acquaintance with my oncologist’s receptionist or a tight bond with a nurse in the chemo lab, I gained several new relationships over the course of my cancer treatment. My nurses were unfailingly caring, and my fellow chemo mates were interesting to converse with, making the hours pass more quickly while we were hooked to IVs.
Emphasizing the positive does not minimize the seriousness of cancer, but it does shift our focus.
Also on my list of enriching relationships are those with my doctors. I’ve heard enough stories to know this isn’t everyone’s experience. For me, though, I feel as if I can call both my oncologist and my surgeon a friend. I got to know my oncologist over a year’s time (and still see him), and my surgeon over months of follow-up care. In every interaction, both doctors were compassionate, honest, and generous with their time when it came to answering my questions.
Since I could relate to people who were also going through trials with cancer, I developed a profound empathy for others. I made use of my deeper concern by reaching out to other cancer survivors. I began writing about my experience with the hope of offering some encouragement.
I also found ways to support other cancer survivors in my community by becoming an advocate for people my surgeon referred to me. In addition, I became a Reach for Recovery volunteer for the American Cancer Society. Finding ways to give back was personally satisfying. While I was helping others, my own trials seemed smaller – another silver lining.
A Sense of Control
After a cancer diagnosis, it seems as if we are in control of so little. The procedures are required, the treatments are scheduled, and our bodies dictate our new limitations. However, we can control at least one thing. This passage from Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s memoir Man’s Search for Meaning sums it up perfectly: “Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
I’m not comparing cancer to his experience, but the wisdom applies in any case. It takes effort, but you can choose a positive attitude, even during suffering.
After my cancer diagnosis, I started looking for things, however fleeting and small, to be grateful for. Emphasizing the positive does not minimize the seriousness of cancer, but it does shift our focus. I found much to appreciate as my list of positives grew: sunsets, hummingbirds, a homecooked meal brought over by a friend. There were sweet little things that inspired bright moments of gratitude. For example, on my first day of chemo, a friend surprised me with a quilt. Her church group had prayed over it as they stitched in uplifting verses, such as Proverbs 17:22 – “A cheerful heart is good medicine.”
Fellow cancer survivors, you can compile your own gratitude list. I hope, as you read it over, you also will find the silver lining in your cancer cloud.
Beverly Bradley is a retired teacher whose avocation is writing. After Beverly was in remission from stage IV triple-negative breast cancer, she wanted to find ways to help others deal with the difficulties of cancer. She became a mentor to people with cancer, both for the American Cancer Society and locally via referrals from her surgeon, Dr. Chanu Dasari. Additionally, Beverly writes a blog for her surgeon’s website (www.silverlining.vegas) and serves as admin for an online support group on Facebook. In her free time, she loves to play with her grandchildren. She and her husband make their home in rural Nevada, near enough to Las Vegas to visit their grandchildren weekly.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2019.