As many of you know, I am a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed on January 29, 1999 and told that in all likelihood I would die within 24 months. Thirteen years later, I’m still here, as stubborn as ever. (“Me die? I don’t THINK so!”)
Of course the entire thing (which took three and a half years, all told) was traumatic, for me, my family, and my community. We all got through it, but it affected us deeply, no doubt about it.
So I was fascinated when I heard an interview on NPR, during which a man who lost both arms in a horrific explosion said, “I won’t say it’s the best thing that ever happened to me, but it was the beginning of a dramatic change for the better in my life.” (I’m paraphrasing; I was driving and didn’t write down his exact words.)
The interview included a discussion of a book called “What Doesn’t Kill Us: The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth” by Stephen Joseph.
According to Amazon.com, “Joseph demonstrates that rather than ruining one’s life, a traumatic event can actually improve it.”
Well. Any cancer survivor can tell you that. I honestly can’t tell you how many people have told me that having had cancer improved their lives. You have to survive the traumatic event, of course, but if you do, it’s possible to come out stronger.
During my cancer treatment, one of my (several) mantras was “I won’t let cancer change me.” Afterwards, I realized that despite my protestations, the experience had changed me profoundly. In many ways, it changed my life for the better.
I was glad to hear that Joseph doesn’t deny the tragedy of posttraumatic stress disorder, because it’s quite clear that many, many people are irreparably (or sometimes only temporarily) damaged by the terrible things that happen to them.
But it was nice to hear the phrase “posttraumatic growth.” I, being a card-carrying Pollyanna, tend to see the bright side of things. I like the concept of growth being an outgrowth of a trauma. It’s not always true or possible, but I am grateful for the positive things that flowed from my cancer journey.