By Teresa Rhyne
(Ms. Rhyne is the author of the #1 NY Times bestseller The Dog Lived (And So Will I) published by Sourcebooks, Inc. It received a great review from Publisher’s Weekly. Her official website : http://teresarhyne.com/ and you can also follow updates about her book on Facebook Fan Page and Twitter.)
I will admit the thought of writing something for a website called “Positive Outlooks” freaked me out. It felt like being asked to suit up to run a relay for the USA in London. (You can’t possibly mean me.) See, I’m a practiced pessimist. The glass is not half full—it’s empty and cracked. Not only that, but I tend to doubt, suspect and even, ahem, avoid, people with sunny, positive dispositions (clearly you are just not paying attention to the world!). But, I reminded myself: Wait. That was me before cancer.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of forty-five, eleven months after I’d opened my own law office and three years from when my beloved beagle had been diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t ask “why me?” (Of course me.) Gradually though, as I went through surgery, three months of chemotherapy, and thirty-three rounds of radiation, a change occurred. I didn’t believe it at first. People would say “You have such a great attitude” and I would roll my lash-less eyes up toward my bald head and think what choice do I have? The doctors would describe the next round of treatment and I would say “Let’s do it” (meaning “let’s get this the hell over with”) and the doctor would say “That’s the right attitude.” And then one day in the radiation waiting room, toward the end of my treatments, a new patient asked me what my “number” was. Cancer patients are given a lot of numbers—the important one becomes, of course, the one that boils down to your odds of survival. I answered without hesitation, “I have an 85% chance it’s not coming back.” The woman argued with my math, insisting that meant I had a 15% chance of recurrence (metastases, and thus death). I assured her my math was fine. And so was I.
Later, I was out walking my dog, Seamus—the same one that had for three years survived a cancer diagnosis that said he’d live only one year. Chris, my significant other, was walking with me. He’d been with me when Seamus was diagnosed and throughout his treatment, and he’d been with me every step of my own odyssey through cancer, making me laugh and making my meals. I told him about the numbers discussion at radiation and he smiled. “Well, look at you,” he said. “Who’s all positive Polly, now?” I smiled. But it was true. I’d come to realize, in those months of treatment, that I was actually pretty lucky. I had a healthy, loving relationship with a partner who stayed by me and kept me laughing. I had an adorable beagle who’d already shown me the way to fight and win against cancer, and I’d caught my cancer early, had good insurance, great doctors, and a law practice that allowed me the flexibility (and the income) I needed to deal with a health crisis. Maybe the glass just might be half full. Maybe I did have the right attitude after all. I liked this new me. Chris was amused (and maybe a little bit afraid).
Old habits die hard though, as Chris likely knew. You still won’t catch me saying “Cancer made me a better person.” (I hate that crap.) I’ve been cancer-free for three years (and Seamus has as well, for six years) and my view of the glass slips up sometimes. The water line moves and occasionally I think it’s contaminated. But at least I know to adjust my thinking. In the same way I could think “85” not “15” then, I can think “half-full” not “half-empty” now when I need to. I can do it when it counts. That’s all that matters.
And now, as I looked at my book “The Dog Lived (and So Will I)”—accomplishing both a lifelong writing dream and ultimate lemonade from lemons feat—I know that whether the glass is half full or half empty, there’s always room for champagne. Cheers to you. (And to me, for getting this written.)
15 thoughts on “Who’s All Positive Polly, Now?”
Sometimes Life Is About Risking, Everything For A Dream, No One Can See But Only You!
I really enjoyed reading your insight into how being positive can come from an unexpected place. I was laughing inside reading how you didn’t notice your healthy attitude was already taking over. For me a positive attitude is a kind of stubbornness to yield to any kind of roadblock that life can design. I think i unconsciously visualize hardships like a boxing match that with a victory the hits i take mean very little. I also had similar cancer trials when I was 17, at one point it was 3% to live another six months because of an abundance of reoccurring lung metastasizes. I’d say that I luckily was already built internally stubborn to the point that everyone throughout my life gets very very annoyed with me. I also have to say that the days lying in solitude in the hospital was where I discovered how to become the person I wanted to be. You already said you hate this statement but…My cancer made me a better person =)
I just finished your book and added it to my list of favorites. Perhaps some of its appeal is my own beagles and their transformative ability to make my life positive and full of laughter on the worst day. But your writing was just as transformative, positive and fun. I had been looking for an inspirational book to read during the holidays. I found yours and it exceeded my expectations because it was real, honest without being sappy and had a genuinely positive effect on me. I wish you all the best, hope you continue your writing, and give Seamus a special treat for helping to make it happen.
Bless you, Teresa, for sharing your story! I absolutely love honest and real conversations like these. Speaking this way does more for others (and ourselves) than making it all pretty and happy when it is anything BUT. I have been very ill for a long time, but was on hospice for a full year 2008-2009 and my husband of 25 years divorced me while I was in a coma leaving my 22 year old daughter to take full care of me. My son and daughter in law were called home several times when they were told I wouldn’t live through the night. But…surprise! Here I am! I am no longer considered terminal at this time and met a wonderful, loving partner who considers it a complete JOY and privilege to spend the rest of our lives together, no matter how well or sick I am. He swears I survived just for him ;). He is amazing and while I consider him my hero, he surprisingly considers me his ;). He is very able-bodied (does marathons, travels the world, climbs mountains, etc.) and takes me with him whenever I am well enough to go. But no matter what, I am just so grateful to know there are really good people out there in the world. I pray I am remembered for my kind and gentle heart and immense love for any and all who suffer or struggle with physical illness of any kind. I have had the awesome privilege of counseling young women with cancer who are on hospice and it is the most touching and rewarding experience I’ve ever known. I’ve lived to see my children grow into amazing, kind and compassionate adults and I NEVER take a single breath for granted. Thank you again for sharing so openly and I wish you and Seamus many, many good days, months, years, etc. My heart goes out to all of you who have commented here <3..
I am glad to see I’m not the only one who struggles to stay positive! You are all so kind (and strong!). Thank you for your words of encouragement and understanding.
Helen–I’m sorry for your loss. That’s a tough one. I was in chemo with a young woman whose husband left her because “he couldn’t take it” and I remember thinking “who does that???” But sadly, I’ve learned it’s not uncommon. I wish the best for you.
Jill- thank you! And the same to you.
Tracy–they are good odds! We must believe that.
Shakira- hang in there. I see strength in your words and I wish you much happiness (and soon! 😉 )
Thank you Teresa for this inspirational reading, and for sharing your thoughts and your very personal experience with us. I am living the most difficult and distressing moments of my life, for a very long, long time (more than 10 years…) and through all this time I felt like a castaway, passing one wave only to breathe a little, before I see a bigger wave coming directly to me, to throw me down. So, from time to time I think “Well, there’s a lot of people suffering so many different and harsher situations than me, so I’m fine…” But sometimes, like now, as you said, I see the water lines in the glass moving like big waves, and it comes very hard to try to keep a real and honest smile, to think that, after all, God blessed me and think “Girl! Chin up! Everything is gonna be all right!” I’m a strong woman, I always been. But sometimes I feel that I’m losing my strenght, and every day becomes harder. I’m still a believer. And I’m still hoping that everything is gonna be all right. I still believe that soon, some day, I will find my happiness. I truly believe that. So thank you. From the bottom of my heart. God bless you.
I have the same odds, and the funny thing is that I think they are pretty decent. I had worse odds doing my risky job in my opinion. But really, God Bless you and youre great attitude!
Thank you for the inspiring and real-life context of your story. Keep faithful and loving. May God bless you with health and well-being.
you are so lucky…good luck with your future…my partner of 23 years left me because she couldn’t handle the cancer….so besides mourning the loss of my breast, I am also mourning the loss of our 23 years together….but I am working very hard to accept both and believe I will make it through!
Love the attitude Teresa and for telling it how it is! Cheers to you, Seamus and Chris for kicking cancer’s ass! My dad died from cancer 2yrs ago. I thank you for being brave enough to share your story so others may have courage! Love your heart sister!! 😉 Christal
Janice, Thank you. Although I happen to be one of the few people (in the world, apparently) who doesn’t like chocolate. It’s good to know the Healthy Chocolate alternative is out there though!
Bravo!! Maybe even try Healthy Chocolate for a boost.
Thank you Violet and Izabel! And Izabel–I switched to a plant-based diet while ago and use both hemp oil and hemp seeds in my diet regularly (Seamus too!). I love it!
Bless you and your courage, bless your dog also! Have you heard about the Hemp Oil curing all cancers naturally, and preventing any returns?