Something Positive

I got some good news. I have the ALK fusion gene that occurs in less than 4% of people with my condition. Scientists have developed a targeted therapy for this mutation that was FDA approved in 2011 as a front line defense because of its outstanding results. This means I won’t have to go through traditional chemo therapy. So instead of my system being carpet bombed by intravenous drugs the Crizotinib will target only the cancer mutation in my body. My doctor was real clear, “results are better and the side effects are lower,” but it’s too early to tell about longevity. This is the biggest break I’ve gotten since I heard the news. I’m delighted and excited to start, but I’m not sure how much my attitude had to do with these results. In other words, did my positive attitude help me?

I’ve been told by everyone to have a positive outlook on things. To keep my chin up. To have faith. I always answer the same way.

“I will.”

And I do, but this answer is usually followed by me gulping hard. Why? I don’t always feel every moment of the day that things will work out for me. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an article called Smile you’ve got Cancer which delves into the cult of positivity. She makes the point that not only was the cancer killing her, but her lack of positive thinking made her feel doubly doomed. She rejected the idea that cancer “was a gift,” or, “the best thing that ever happened to her.” She’s a bit of a contrarian but the article had me laughing.

My emotions run the gamut, mostly hopeful, and largely buoyed by the wave of good will and prayer I’ve received in person through letters and on Facebook. I had no idea I had so many genuine friends. I had no idea that I had so many in my corner who cared. Still doubt is like a draft that blows though the house. You immediately try to find where the cold air is coming from, and close it off, but it can return. Similarly, anxiety creeps in despite my wish to close it out. Crizotinib has positive effects on 90 % of recipients but the mutation can change.

When an interviewer asked Thich Nhat Hanh, “Are you always this peaceful?” The Buddhist Monk didn’t say yes or no.

“This is my training, this is my practice,” he said, and smiled. By extension, being positive is an action step, a practice, as the great Monk reminds me. Luckily it has spilled over into my actions. I’ve received radiation on my back that has relieved my pain. I’ve set my mind to being hopeful while I lie on the table and hear the beams moving through me. I’ve used visualization techniques, breathing techniques; I’ve called on my childhood God. But the fact remains; I can’t contain the whirlwind in my head all the time. My worst thoughts will often try to stage a coup. This is okay when it happens, too. In the meantime, I have five radiation appointments left followed by a two week rest. Then the chemo pills start and the positive thinking, of course.

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27 thoughts on “Something Positive

  1. Sean, I have had some serious challenges through your the years and just last week a very serious life threatening challenge of one if my girls. I can’t stress enough how important it is to number one “Keep the faith” , number two , pray often and three…. Attitude is everything! Mind over matter! Set your intention that you Have Already beaten the cancer and you are healthy. Most importantly do not let doubt enter your mind. When it try’s to let itself back in, push it out with a positive thought. Write down daily positive affirmations and keep a gratitude list everyday . You will see the changes for the better. I promise you!
    Karin

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  2. Hooray for good news! I love your description of doubt and anxiety creeping in like a cold draft in the house. You may not be able to find the source and solve it, but lightness and warmth will chase it away. Your positive attitude it the key! Sending you bushels of love and light from across the country. You and your family are in my prayers daily. Lana

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  3. Good to hear about the gene therapy. Statistically, you are one of the luck one! I did some reading about Crizotinib. it’s an inhibitor that blocks the receptors that instruct the mutated cancer cells to divide and multiply. Relatively new treatment, only approved in 2007. It’s the future of medicine, gene therapy.

    As to your feelings and struggles with the emotional rollercoaster that is cancer. I think this is the part that Dr. Rosen called ” a richer life”. During Cory’s early days of the diagnosis, surgeries, and tests and the unknown, we too experienced the highs and lows. We would stay awake at night thinking about tomorrow, our love for each other, family, and how we were going to pull through or not. We found this process frightening but it actually reduced our anxiety. The real important stuff in your life gets it’s proper perspective. You become acutely aware of the frailty of life and what’s important to you and your family. All other less important things, people and worries are assigned their proper weight. That is what I think Dr. Rosen called a “richer life” . Just a thought.

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  4. I think if our thinking positive feels like a lie or a cover up and an attempt to medicate normal human feelings about loss and difficulty, then it won’t really take us anywhere. But if it comes from facing truth and dealing with feelings, crying when we need to cry, feeling angry when that arises, but also recognizing that we can have faith, hope and love in spite of difficulty, then being able to see the sunrays must then help to boost us. And the boosting can build on itself, I think. We may have some determination, I think, that impacts on things like health, but it must be rooted in truth, I think. That’s my take but I’m just one person speaking from my own life experiences. But if the clouds come don’t let anyone make you feel guilty. Your feelings are your feelings. Find the light rays in the way that is honest and right for you.

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  5. Hi Sean,
    Good news is always good, My friend Rebecca said we need to hold hope along with the realization that we may not make it (i.e., doubt) together. I think she meant that we shouldn’t bury the doubt, because that won’t really make it go away. I took out two Thich Nhat Hanh books from the library and gave you one. The other I am reading. Because of you I am getting more of his wisdom (don’t think I would have read this book if I hadn’t taken it out for you. He says, “. . . when we call up and get in touch with the truth that we cannot escape old age and death, our fear–and the foolish things we do to try not to feel it–will cease. We no longer act out our fears unconsciously and feel the cycle that makes them grow stronger.
    Much love brother.

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  6. HOORAY HOORAY!!!!! Great news Sean~ and must be celebrated!!!!! For you to be among only 4% is pretty damn amazing and I believe an answer to so many prayers. Do I think your attitude helped? Yes, but I believe it has more to do with so many people in your corner, praying for you and your family each and every day. You will no doubt go through ups and downs, which is why it’s so important to really celebrate every time you get good news. By opening up, and sharing your journey with us, you are no longer facing this alone. You have community of well wishers pulling for you, praying for you, and loving you. The world needs more Sean Daly’s xox

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  7. This is insanely amazing news. Omg needed some good news like this today. Honey I fully believe in the power of the mind. My husband and I have read that sarno book you were referring to in your first blog and it is very true. The mind is a powerful tool that can be used to really help you fight this. Stay positive and keep a clear head and know that you will be part of this 90%. Sending love and healing thoughts your way. Love yA

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  8. I so loved this news! Hope, based on something real, is so meaningful. 4% in the positive? – amazing. You’ll hear more and more good news. Meanwhile write… about you, about anything. You are so good.

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  9. Sean, I love your writing. You word craft gives rise to the visceral experience of this journey. Thank you for blogging. It serves us all, and of course creates a place for you to be seen and loved.

    I am reminded of the practice “there is a place at my table for all” including doubt and fear. For me, not pushing them away, but embracing them as part of this living. I have been working with the Buddhist 5 Remembrances, which kick up a lot of of triggers for me (and for others, I strongly suspect), but also brings me closer to the Present, to making peace with my mortality, increase gratitude,etc.

    (Thich Nhat Hanh’s version)

    I am of the nature to grow old.
    There is no way to escape growing old.
    I am of the nature to have ill health.
    There is no way to escape ill health.
    I am of the nature to die.
    There is no way to escape death.
    All that is dear to me and everyone I love
    are the nature to change.
    There is no way to escape
    being separated from them.
    My actions are my only true belongings.
    I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
    My actions are the ground upon which I stand

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  10. HI Sean
    That’s really great news I check your blog every morning before I go to work keep up the wonderful writing even me of little faith is preying for you. Give my love to D

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