When "Motivational" Isn't Motivational in Cancer


Editor’s Note: This piece was submitted by a contributing writer and does not represent the views of CURE Media Group.

Ever since my remission, I have tried to be involved in various cancer patient and survivor communities. Consequently, I have read many articles on dealing with cancer and survivorship that are intended to help people through their experience with cancer. Most of these articles try to motivate and inspire cancer patients, survivors and their supporters by taking on an optimistic (often overly-optimistic) tone about cancer.

I understand that for many people these articles are helpful as they process their cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. However, I have never found comfort from such articles. In fact, they unintentionally make me angry and feel isolated within the cancer community. Often, I feel like a curmudgeon among cancer survivors because the optimism seems slopped over reality a little too thickly for me. Whenever I open an article meant for cancer patients, I hope that instead of rolling my eyes, I will think "Yes! That is exactly how it was for me." So I continue to read these articles, but I still hear a very narrow section of voices. Unfortunately, these are voices that do not speak to me.

Recently, I read an article about how cancer couldn't change certain aspects of your life. At the beginning of the article, I was merely annoyed. By the middle, I was frustrated, and when I finished the article, I was nearing disgust. According to the article, cancer cannot hurt your friendships, diminish your faith, take your dignity, break your spirit or change your identity. These declarations, however, are not unique. I have heard them all before recycled in some form or another in article after article. The realist in me wants to scream at how misleading and inaccurately they portray cancer for many patients and survivors. The basic formula of these articles seems to be uncritical affirmations infused over-generously with optimism that lump all cancer experiences (and patients) together.

As though cancer is not alienating enough, especially for young survivors, I often feel more alone in my experiences because I can't relate to the community writing about cancer. Somehow, I end up feeling like a traitor or like I'm committing a sacrilege because I'm not the cheerleader type, particularly when it comes to cancer. I am far less optimistic and far less interested in what I view as false inspiration. As a young survivor, I feel added pressure to be positive because it is unnatural for a young person to dive into these topics. Illness and speaking critically of illness seem to be the natural property of the old. Personally, I prefer a more practical conversation about cancer that acknowledges realistically diverse experiences and viewpoints. These types of conversations are difficult to find. I know they exist, but the loudest voices seem to be the ones that continue to offer the same trite, "motivational" information which has become increasingly irrelevant for me.

If I feel this way, I imagine other patients and survivors have similar feelings. So, I have to ask: Who is the cancer community writing for? Are we writing for patients? Are we writing for the broad array of patients and experiences? Or are we writing for the perfect world we want, instead of the world inside cancer patients' hospital rooms?

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