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.)