Resilience Through Cancer Could Make All the Difference

A good attitude means so much more than a smile to cancer patients.

Pretty much everyone I know is pleased that I have a good attitude. Heck, I’m pleased that I have a good attitude. If cancer is running around my body, waiting to cause havoc, then I admit I will do whatever I can to kick it out (or stop it from multiplying anyway).

But that good attitude doesn’t mean I am a happy cancer patient. I’m not. For all those cancer patients out there putting smiles on your faces every morning, smiling after the doctor tells you there’s yet another test on the horizon, smiling at the nurse as you settle in for another round of chemotherapy, I am here to say that at least for me happiness is not what I feel.

My friends and family tease me about being strong. That used to mean I had a lot of muscles for a girl (which I did), that I could open those stubborn jars better than most guys and that I wasn’t going to hesitate to move my own furniture.

They’d tease me about my stubbornness. And I confess, stubbornness is a favorite personal quality and it’s often been essential whether used for good or evil. But does stubbornness help me in my current situation? I’m not God after all. I may be stubborn but I don’t control everything.

No, I don’t control everything, but these days that strength and stubbornness are a bit more metaphorical. Yes, I can still lift that ridiculously large old speaker in the living room — I just went out there and proved it to myself — but the strength I really rely on now is actually called resilience.

When the oncology nurse said I looked like I was “hit by a truck” immediately after learning breast cancer had spread to my lungs, she was probably right. I did, in fact, feel like I’d been hit by a truck, or maybe even a train, if I’m going to be honest. Fortunately, even though my life has been pretty wonderful, there have been plenty of times when I’ve been forced to learn the value of being able to take a hit and just get back up again. Cancer may be the hardest hit my body has taken so far, but it hasn’t kicked me down for good.

As cancer patients, we’ve all seen resilience in others. But sometimes we don’t see it in ourselves. It’s there though, sometimes hiding and sometimes being the only thing that gets you through a tough appointment with a doctor.

Strong and stubborn patients, resilient patients, the ones with the smiles that say so much more than I’m happy, don’t always survive. Sometimes they suffer. Sometimes they die. But I believe that resilience always helps us find meaning, joy and love in the life we have.

And if some of the battle is just showing up, then resilience provides a mighty firm foundation. I will listen to what the doctors have to say. I will do everything they tell me to do. I chose them for my care and I trust their experience and I trust their concern for me.

But there’s a lot a doctor can’t do for a cancer patient. And for me, whether it’s called strength or stubbornness or resilience doesn’t matter. It’s the thing that says eat well, go outside, call your mom, call your daughter, sit next to your husband and, above all, show up.

If attitude is everything, I'm so glad my attitude has resilience in its core.