Finding The Right Attitude

Despite their good intentions, other people don't always know what to say to cancer fighters so they end up saying something that comes out wrong. But how should you respond? Read on to find out how Helen dealt with situations like this while she was battling colon cancer.

"You Look Good"

This was the response I received numerous times while undergoing six months of chemotherapy treatment for Stage III Colon Cancer. This spontaneous compliment came after someone would ask me how I was doing. Although I sincerely appreciated the genuine concern for my well-being, I couldn't help but have many questions about what these comments really meant.

  • Did that mean I had looked bad before?
  • Did it mean that all cancer patients are stereotyped and "must" look physically horrible to everyone else?
  • Did it mean that our society is "hung up" on the superficiality of one's looks, especially with a life threatening disease like cancer?

I fully understood that their intentions were meant to be both concerned and heartfelt but I heard this often enough that it made me wonder why anyone afflicted with cancer would generate these kind of social responses.

"What do you think I should look like?"

That's what I wanted to say in response. But I understood that perhaps over time they had seen too many cancer movies where patients are often portrayed as looking awful, bald and emaciated. The more realistic movie that illustrated this point with some levity was the movie 50/50.

The battle with cancer might be a physical one for the body but an emotional, spiritual and intellectual one for the mind. I truly was glad to hear, that I "looked" good from their perspective but what was more important to me was that I had done the necessary "inner work" to align both my mind and body together in a united goal to try to become well again. I was busy working on keeping my optimistic mental attitude and while gathering up all of my inner strength and fortitude to persevere. I became very determined to do whatever it took to beat my cancer, and to me, that's why I looked good.

"The only true disability in life is a bad attitude."

In 1984, figure skater Scott Hamilton won the gold medal in the Olympics. He accomplished this feat with great determination. When he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1997 he claims he fought his disease with the same degree of resolve. Scott Hamilton believes we are all defined by how we deal with our setbacks in life.

So although I wasn't necessarily happy when people said "You look good!", I took it to mean that my attitude must have been reflected in my physical appearance. My personal victory and success is based on my own strong unwavering conviction to have been willing to persevere, to overcome cancer, as well as the exceptional medical care I received during my treatment regimen.