Bursting the Bubble

stay positiveBreast cancer is in the news a lot lately. A famous British footballer’s wife just died from it last night. Her name was Rebecca Ellison. By strange and horrible coincidence, tomorrow night sees the premiere of a TV adaptation of the book ‘The C-Word”, the account of blogger Lisa Lynch‘s ultimately fatal experience of breast cancer. The forums were already ablaze yesterday with the impending airing of this show. Such a high profile death in the headlines and the forums are exploding in all sorts of directions.

In the discussions about the TV show, we were split fairly evenly into three camps.

The first was enthusiastic, excited to see breast cancer in the media. They were curious at how it would be represented, whether their own experiences would ring true with the moving images. The most powerful post I read was from a woman who was aware that she hadn’t really faced her diagnosis and was hoping the show would act as a catalyst for her to explore, process and talk over some of her feelings and thoughts. This is what art does best. It reflects ourselves back at us and helps us to see things we are too afraid or distracted to look at.

The second camp were interested but nervous. They weren’t sure they were emotionally stable enough to watch it. The general consensus for them was to record it and watch it later, or not at all.

The third, into which I fell, didn’t want to watch it all. Some because they knew for sure they couldn’t take on the emotions it would elicit. For a fair few of us though it was pure self preservation. I have bought wholly into the positive thinking approach which I’ve mentioned in other posts. I have firmly told myself that I am not going to die. I am going to be sick for a while and then I am going to be better. Like any other illness. The statistics back me up and positive thinking is proven to aid in my physical health. The C-Word might have been doable for me if the protagonist didn’t die. Her story ends the way I don’t want mine to end. My story has been carefully constructed. To challenge it is to break down some of the precious little action I can take to save my own life. Even researching this blog post was forcing myself to take a peek into the abyss that always lies in my peripheral vision. I had trouble even typing the search terms into google. Each keystroke felt like a betrayal.

What I’m also worried about is that people will start asking me about the TV show. Did I watch it, what did I think? I talked to hubby about this and he said it was similar to his feeling that as a Jewish person, everyone expected him to have seen Schindler’s List and have an opinion. He would like to reply, “That film is for you all, not for me.” That’s kind of how I feel about The C-Word. Not that everyone who doesn’t watch it is a Cancer Nazi. But maybe it’s an opportunity for those who don’t have breast cancer to get a glimpse into the world of someone who does. Another thing that art does brilliantly, lets us walk in another’s shoes.

Like the many and varied creatures we are as humans, the show and the headlines will effect people in different ways. Just as there are 200 different diseases classed as cancer and fourteen different breast cancers. On top of that there are a variety of gradings, locations and sizes. All adding up to a plethora of experiences as varied as the human reactions to them. So it’s not surprising that there is no one way of handling breast cancer in the media. If you want to watch, you’re right. If you don’t want to watch, you’re right. We must all listen to our gut and make that decision for ourselves. For me though, it’s time to switch off their stories and tune into my own.



17 thoughts on “Bursting the Bubble

  1. Lisa

    Recently there was a documentary aired here, called Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies. I didn’t watch it because it felt too close to home. Your comment about having constructed your own story echoes my reason for not watching the documentary. It’s also why, after attending a cancer support group, I decided not to go back. Constructing our own stories is such an important part of our positive thinking, and we need to surround ourselves with a cheering section that supports our story. It’s a version of herd immunity: herd positivity.

    1. Heidi

      Ah I have the book. Also unsure of whether to read it. I really like the concept of herd positivity! xxxx

  2. sokari

    You are on point when you point out there are 200 different diseases classed as cancer and 14 different breast cancers – add to that a host of other variables not least of all general wellness e.g. diabetes, high BP, heart issues , being over/under weight – the list is huge. I think shows like this are important [please try and watch the PBS on history of Cancer which is excellent though I had to turn off when it came to kiddies with C – programme focuses on treatment]. But these programmes can also confuse as people often don’t get that there are so many variables and differences with the illness and the treatment. EG I didn’t have a lump just a mass so shrinking was not an option and I’m sure there are other differences but also similarities too – age for one. Also death is not from breast cancer per se but from the spread of that cancer to other parts which is the point of chemo and other treatments based on the grade and rapidity or aggressiveness of the cancer.

    I must say there were a couple of books that helped me e.g. Audre Lorde’s Cancer Journals even though she died in the end after a reassurance and spread to other parts of her body – I think it was 15 years timeframe. A couple of others were OK but a few where beyond me as they were too sentimental and seemed to put the onus on healing on the individual’s state of mind rather than on the cancer.

    I believe in being positive because this helps us cope and live with as much purpose as possible and not because it will directly impact on the said tumor i.e. being positive will make it shrink – I mean I was perfectly happy before it arrived so my being positive didn’t stop my cells going haywire and off course.. Maybe thats where we differ I dont know. but I do know there is no point being miserable and negative long term etc as it doesn’t help us get through the day so yes POSITIVE is an must – its a form of survival mentally and emotionally. Sometimes ones feels so sick you cannot be bothered to feel anything let alone be positive. But we are all wanting to survive so one day you wake up and ZAP the mind goes into “Yaaaaa I’m Alive” mode and thats the being positive setting in.

    As far as watching it goes, I think if I was in the Cancer right now I would probably avoid it as I think I would be too delicate emotionally. I’m like you Heidi, I want to know what this C thing is, I want to know everything there is possible to know about it cause so many people I know have it or have had it not just breast but ovarian, cervical, mouth and leukemia.

    But there is a politics too – why is it that still so many people are dying of C in 2015, no woman should die of breast cancer if screening is carried out not just for 50+ but earlier. I met a young woman of 23 who had BC when I did, it had already metastasized and she never made 30 even though she had so many chemo sessions. But I then found out that after she was diagnosed initially she never went back to the doctor until she got sick by which time it was too late. Why, she couldn’t say, depression, not enough understanding, lots of reasons really. I dont even know where this 50_+ screening age comes from cause I was too early and Heidi you are so why 50 why not 30, 40 – Anyway I’ve ranted on too long. Hope you can enjoy some chocolate biscuits and ice-cream and jelly and love to Lilah and Adam

    1. Heidi

      Amazing comment my darling. I agree the screening age should be lowered. I know I personally didn’t want to watch the C-Word but programmes like that are good to raising public awareness and getting people to check their boobs.

      I agree that the positive thinking doesn’t literally shrink tumours but it does have a physical benefit in other ways and not just an emotional or brain based effect. Although emotions could be argued to be physical as they are generated by chemicals in the brain.


  3. Katherine

    Quite suprised to read this today as never even considered for a second that cancer is doing anything other than wasting its time getting its butt kicked by you. Its not positivity, its what’s happening. Love you and your butt kicking ways xxx

  4. Kat

    That sounds like a wise choice. Hurray for scientifically backed positivity and for knowing your own emotional processes. For what it’s worth, I share your positivity and absolutely know you will get through this.

    Talking of existential fear of death, though, I just read a fascinating article about how researchers are experimenting with giving psychedelics to cancer patients to treat anxiety and fear around their illness. This type of research was discredited in the 1960s after the psychedelics created in the lab for therapeutic purposes became a big part of the counterculture. And took many years to become respectable again as an area of serious research (ie not conducted by guys with tinted glasses and purple flares), but there’s lots of new clinical trials ongoing, with govt funding at the major medical universities, and with really positive results. Though it does make me want to say “duh” when science discovers things that indigenous Mexicans were doing for millennia.
    Trigger warning in that many of the stories in the article are about terminal patients and their experiences, so you may not want to be breaking your positivity protective shield by reading it. But the stories are really profound and moving and the whole field is fascinating. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/09/trip-treatment
    much love to you wise lady xx

    1. Heidi

      thanks for such another amazing comment , Kat. I had a look at the article but it was way too long for my chemo brain ; ) I did get a third of the way through and it is fascinating stuff. I had heard of psychedelics being used to treat PTSD successfully but not this. I’m definitely interested in finding some acceptance as death. I’m uncertain on whether I should do that now in case it disturbs my positive thinking. although acceptance of death can be very freeing and alleviate a huge source of anxiety. hmmmm you’ve given me something to ponder…

  5. Kat

    PS It was your lovely comment about switching off their stories and tuning into your own that made me think of that article, and the journey of the patients involved in the clinical trials.

  6. joba

    Yep totally agree with the ‘its for you, not me ‘ statement. There’s lots of conversation topics and pieces of art that my friends have wanted to explore and see but I’ve gone, you know what…I’ve lived through these things so don’t need that for me. I found my own way through and have been in a family that have done the most incredible things to see it through these things and that’s enough dialogue for me…I don’t need to hear lots more experiences of this to emphasise with others or do positive things to make changes. Its an informative action for those that aren’t quite in the know yet.

    I also agree that if it was a positive account then yea totally watch it, get those little boosts of + thinks and draw strength form others that have come out the other side…the negative is not helpful right now, it just plain aint. I’ve said it before to you that I think right now it’s creating a bubble of love, support and positivity and then after when you’re all balanced and healthy again, you may be able to look at a plethora of other peoples experiences…right now though it’s just about your own path and your own healing. You’re ace, I love you.x


    I ended up not watching this -well past the first 5 minutes and already I started feeling bad, not least of all because I did not feel it represented me in any way and I couldn’t get beyond that.

  8. Karen

    Another really thoughtful post, Heidi. Yes, I think it’s really wise to differentiate between your/our story and others’ stories. That’s a challenge, but a really important one. I do think we have to somehow try to build our world around ourselves which reflects how we want to go forward. There are so many stories whizzing around us these days, and it can be so overwhelming, and there is no way we can take it all on board – nor should we. During recent life challenges I’ve felt strongly that discriminating between stories I choose to tell myself makes a massive difference to my ability to be constructive with life (ok, I’m not always able to do it, but…). Sometimes we don’t get a choice about the stories, like in certain life events, or when we have depression and the grim reality just IS. But when we are able to discriminate between the different stories surrounding us, we can really strengthen ourselves. Maybe jangled nerves get a chance to recover a bit when they are supported by heartening stories?

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