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Decoding the ‘Be Positive’ Myth

Image credit — Google images

The word ‘cancer’ is by far the most fatalistic word I’ve ever come across. The moment that word is associated with a living person, the atmosphere in the room changes. People’s expression become that of pity and sympathy, someone will let out a cheerful slogan — “You’ll beat it”, while someone will recap a survivor’s story, another one will enquire the details of the disease, and someone will manage to crack a joke, to ease out the tension in the room. Notwithstanding the awkwardness, cancer is a treacherous state to be in. It’s like a bully, threatening to get back to you after every class. And, you build yourself in that period (meaning medical treatment) to punch that bully in the face, once that class ends.

As a disease, cancer not just has the potential to change the way a patient looks at life, but simultaneously, changes the gears, direction and speed of the family members’ lives.

No two cancer cases are alike, emotionally and medically speaking. Yes, the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment are far and large the same, but every cancer story is different. Why so? Because the cast and crew of every cancer patient are different. A different spouse, different set of kids, different ambitions and different outlooks towards life.

My Dad’s been a cancer patient for the last four years. He has oral cancer, a disease which has involved — radiation, chemotherapy and surgery as well. Throughout these years, Dad has shown remarkable grit and optimism, continuing with his job, travelling for official purposes, attending family weddings and funerals, driving across states and travelling internationally. His strength to take the disease head on, has been inspiring and commendable at the same time.

What has been less commendable perhaps, is the ability of his family to give him due space, credit and support to deal with this disease. So often and so many times, I’ve come across this statement, “cancer patients need emotional support.” Yes, I get it. But what does mean by that? Does that mean that you constantly text them that you’re there for them, because honestly that bugs my Dad. Or do you say, it will all be fine, because again, that’s a cliched line that every patient hears all the time. Worst is — “be positive”. I mean, what does staying positive mean? Tell me in verbatim. In actionable form. What are the positive steps that one can take, as a patient and care giver, to deal with the disease? Being positive sounds life changing, all encompassing formula to tackle this bully, but in reality, there is no step-by-step guide to retain positivity, when the disease retains its presence each minute in your life?

My Dad, has been the most positive guy, I’ve ever met in my life. Before and after the disease. He’s been the one guy whose shown me optimism, and given me the hope to chase my larger than life goals, ignoring the minor setbacks like pebbles on a path. So much so, that I’ve relied on him for any kind of struggle : mental, physical, professional or personal, and always gotten a renewed enthusiasm to take the struggle head on. Much at the annoyance of my mother, who often comes to know my secrets through Dad. But what happens, when that shoulder needs another shoulder to derive positivity from. When your Dad turns to you, and you’re supposed to show him the optimism that you never thought you had in the first place.

So, through my experience of living with my father, watch him fight this disease, I’ll be summing up lessons, of what I take as meanings to the “Be Positive” phrase. I’ll be writing short essays, highlighting one routine, to learn to help my Dad stay positive, and at the same time, help anyone out there reading this who might be dealing with something similar. The most important aspect of each of these routines, is the contribution of a family member, because company matters a lot, when one is down with cancer.

I’ll be beginning with something very simple but extremely effective. Daily walks. This sounds simple and common sensical, but trust me when I say this, the biggest pain that a cancer patient will ever experience is boredom. My Dad’s more conscious of his ailment when he gets back from work, and has free time on his hands. It puts him back in the patient mode, and engulfs him with uncertainty. And this is where an evening walk becomes essential. As my Dad wears his running shoes, and decides to walk around the neighbourhood, he essentially enters healthy life mode again. Even if that lasts 15 minutes. It gives him room to think beyond the walls of his house, pushes him to work with a body, which is trying to work against him, and develop a cycle of physical training, which otherwise is absent.

Also, daily walks, when with a partner (could be spouse, friend or kid), enables conversation. Chatter for all its means and purposes, is by far the easiest way to distract a troubled mind. It invites normalcy, it invites intrigue, it invites knowledge, but above all, it invites enthusiasm. And walking pushes one to wander into conversations which otherwise seem pretty useless, and are aimless. Trust me, one cannot enjoy a useless discussion, sitting in a bedroom, next to a table of medicines. So, go, take a useless walk instead.

Hi, I’m Mariyam, thank you for reading my post. This is part of my series on finding positivity and decoding the ‘be positive’ attitude as my father fights through aggressive oral cancer.

If you liked it, you can read other posts on

You can also follow me on twitter @MariyamRaza for more. Much love 🙂

Mariyam Raza Haider

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A journalist by training, Mariyam Haider is a writer and performance poet in Singapore.
She is the researcher of the book The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age written by James Crabtree.
Her writing has appeared in Hindustan Times, Livemint, Feminism In India, New Asian Writing and Kitaab.

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