Toxic Positivity

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Hi, my partner has recently been diagnosed. We are at the stage of telling people and updating people with the situation. The one thing that has really stood out to me is the amount of toxic positivity.  I understand people don't know what to say, they want to be kind, make you/them feel better however, it jars so much when you keep hearing "think positive, it will be fine, forget about it for the weekend" etc. Has anyone else experienced this? Do you ignore it? call it out? Personally i've been calling it out in a nice way. The more people are aware of toxic positivity the better moving forward. People just mean well i guess. 

  • Hi  …… I have been on my rare, incurable but treatable blood cancer journey for over 24 years now so have heard it all and some.

    As you say people at times just don’t know what to say and it’s only when you talk with others with lived experience that you find a different honest and informed narrative.

    You will find that the ‘positivity’ language will keep coming along so you just have to have selective hearing. But at other times when you know people well and know that you can be open, do try to educate them in a supportive way…… for some people being positive is their default level of their support pot so helping them understand is in turn helping others going through cancer that these people come in contact with in the future.

    As for the positive mind set…… there is a place for it.

    My Respiratory Consultant (I also have asbestosis) is a very good family friend and he maintains that of all the patients he sees those who are glass half-full people do actually add to their ability to get through their treatment and come out the other end in a better place than those who don’t have that mind set - it’s not scientifically proven, just his observation from many years dealing with cancer patients.

    Mike (Thehighlander)

    It always seems impossible until its done - Nelson Mandela

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  • I used to general acknowledge it with a polite thanks and swiftly move on. I was positive until I sat in that chemo chair for the first time! Come round 12 I think I'd have had some strong words for anyone's toxic positivity at that point... 

  • Ahead of me starting chemo, a friend passed on the advice of a friend of hers who has been treated for cancer. The advice was that you don’t have to be positive all the time - the drugs will work anyway. I think I’ll be taking that on board,

  • Hi  

    I am still experiencing some toxic positivity almost 5 years on from my original diagnosis. It’s the same person, and this week with something that was said I was both angry and upset. It doesn’t make me feel better, it doesn’t help, and I’ve kept my counsel up till now. However, I don’t like it, I don’t want it so I called her out and asked if she was aware of toxic positivity. That ended the conversation, which was by messenger, so I don’t expect I’ll be hearing from that person again. And that’s ok. 

    Sarah xx


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  • Hi Mart1, I am getting that at the moment, people telling me 'But you look so well!" - how am I supposed to look then?! Or "you will get through it as you are such a positive person" - makes a difference to the treatment does it?  I have days when I think, its all going to be sorted and then I will move on with my life and everything will be fine and I am glad it was found and its treatable, but then on other days I could scream Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Is being "positive" an opening for cancer to come it then? I smile and say Thank You like the nice polite person I was brought up to be but I honestly feel like saying "and how the hell would you know?" but of course we don't do that. I am a positive, glass half full, kind of person and look to find something to be glad for everyday but as you say sometimes the Toxic Positivity really gets up your nose! Felt good to vent there, thank you ! 

  • The phrase that bugs me most currently is “I completely understand”. Meant entirely positively - I hear when I say I may need to be flexible about seeing a friend or  postpone seeing someone because of how I feel or because they’ve been around people with colds and other things I don’t want. So far I’ve let it go, but am working out how to say something about how it lands with me. That’s my rant over! Thanks for listening! 

  • Hi Suejam, 

    I have the same, because I was told I would lose my hair with chemo and it only thinned (I have extremely thick hair) I am just told how well I look, don’t get me wrong I am looking much better now after chemo and surgery and managing to put on weight which is great, but some people tend to react by saying well done you, you can now get on with your life!! I then say yes thank you for that but I have a scan next month again and a cytoscopy in September to check no reoccurrence and if clear still I will be checked in six months again. 
    I am not after sympathy, I just wish people would think before they speak and realise you have gone through a life changing experience that remains with you for ever, a simple great to see you, and are you managing okay would suffice. 
    That is my venting over too Joy

  • At the moment I have chosen not to tell anyone apart from my son and daughter in law. We have no other family. I suppose friends will learn eventually but I can’t bear the thought of all this stuff. All that stay strong bollocks and all that sad face with head on one side stuff. Just talk to me normally abythe World Cup or the Weather or what a feeble excuse for a government we have!!  What is it about C that is different to other serious illness?

  • I agree completely with this! I am so glad I kept things quiet when I was first diagnosed. I still got some unhelpful stuff but not much because I limited who I told. People are scared of cancer, I think it’s as simple as that. Those of a certain age grew up terrified of this illness which was spoken about in whispers, and where it was seen as a death sentence. That still lingers for many I think.

    The stay strong and positive nonsense makes people feel better about themselves-it’s not about us, the patients. People say it, absolve themselves of having to do any further thinking, feel they have done something good, and move on-relieved they don’t have cancer themselves. 

    I always felt my cancer was my business and no-one else’s, other than who I chose to tell. I asked my partner not to tell anybody. This was my control when everything else was out of my control. Once people know, you can’t take it back, and you can’t control what they do with the information. I didn’t want that to happen. 

    Sarah xx


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  • One comment that stuck with me was that “God choose you to have cancer because you’re strong” - at the time my daughter was 6 and my son 3 months old! This really stuck with me and played into my PTSD.

    Some people really n to you in times of trouble and some distance, no matter how close they are as family or friends. the same ‘friend’ now ex-friend , said it was hard for her as she felt I had new ‘friends’ and felt pushed out. As though I’d joined a book club or art class! But fail to understand that one day you might be up for doing something and the next you’re not. 

    my dad is in complete denial about my cancer and has chosen to bury his head in the sand, not call, avoid the subject or situation all together. 

    I’m fed up of being told I’m strong, brave, think positive- because most of the time my mind is racing xxx