Category: Positive Psychology

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Wearing Cancer Survival Like a Badge of Honor

00Featured news, Grief, Health, Positive Psychology, Relationships, Resilience October, 17

Source: eKBS at DeviantArt, Creative Commons

“I have stage 3 cancer; my friend has stage 1—which is like a pimple.”

On her personal blog, Debbie Woodbury, a woman diagnosed with Stage 0 cancer, references this comment by a fellow cancer patient. While she considers the comment hurtful, she is not particularly surprised.

Cancer prognoses vary, and there is large variation in survival between types and degrees of illness. Some are fortunate to survive without the sickening effects of chemotherapy, the fear of losing hair, or surgeries that leave patients bedridden for weeks. But people may also minimize their cancer journey, or be made to view their experiences as ‘lesser’.

Woodbury explains:

“Without a tumor and with a Stage 0 cancer diagnosis, I started this journey not even sure I was qualified to call myself a cancer patient.”

Similarly, Lesley Miller writes of her husband:

“I bought him a bold yellow shirt that said ‘survivor’ across the front. ‘Survivor,’ in his mind, is nothing to tell the world about. He didn’t do anything to claim survivor status; his body just had a treatable cancer that happened to respond to drugs.”

Just like that, degrees of illness become a competition, belittle personal struggles, and create segregation among patients and those in remission.

In January 2015, cancer survivor Cindy Finch posted an article in the Huffington Post entitled “The 6 Injustices of Cancer.” The article received a great deal of backlash for suggesting that certain cancer patients “get off really easy”. She claimed:

“I’ve heard it a hundred times, ‘I’m a cancer survivor, too.’ ‘Oh, really? What type of cancer did you have and what was your treatment?’ ‘Oh, I had thyroid cancer and had to take a radioactive pill for 30 days. Then I was all better.’”

Finch talks about individuals with ‘worse’ diagnoses:

“These folks represent the worst among us. If you’re not one of these folks, perhaps you should be quiet and sit down, and let someone else tell their war story.”

As if some cancer patients just aren’t macho enough. Attitudes like these have negative consequences on patient mental health.

Cancer patients often report feelings of guilt for surviving the illness. Survivor guilt is common among people who have gone through traumatic experiences, such as war, accidents, natural disasters, and interpersonal abuse. For Woodbury, not suffering enough throughout her cancer experience elicited guilt feelings.

Some individuals also consider themselves less deserving. Ann Silberman, a breast cancer survivor, writes in her personal blog:

“It was my belief that others deserved to live more than I did. Better people than me are now gone; people who were funnier, who were kinder, who had more to give.”

And then, of course, there are expectations people have of cancer patients: The image of the strong, inspirational individual, filled with gratitude for a second chance at life.

Silberman continues:

“I am still trudging along, bitching about how cold I am and slamming pain meds for my aches and pains.”

According to Crystal Park and colleagues at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, living through cancer results in the development of new identities that can define people for the rest of their lives. For those still in active treatment, the identity of patient or victim can develop, carrying the connotation of severe suffering inflicted on them. But for those who have survived such adversity, the most common identity was survivor, which carries the connotation of cure.

As cancer becomes an engrained aspect of an individual’s identity, it may be natural for those who suffered greatly to take pride in how much they overcame, indeed to try to silence others who have not experienced the same level of adversity.

But Woodbury takes umbrage at this view, noting:

“The truth is that cancer is not a competition and, just as I am enough, so is my cancer. I certainly did go through less than someone else might have gone through. Thank God for that. For that I should be grateful, not made to feel, by myself or anyone else, that I am guilty of not suffering enough to qualify in the cancer games.”

– Eleenor Abraham, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

Copyright Robert T. Muller.
 

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

Newsletter Autism and self-advocacy-9fd74e5e8925f1543f1081776d2540cbf8fa9b5c

We Thought You’d Never Ask: Autism and Self-Advocacy

00Autism, Education, Featured news, Humor, Intelligence, Positive Psychology March, 16

Source: Gerry Wurzburg at Wretches & Jabberers, Used with permission

“Not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say,” read the flat and emotionless voice of the computer. The author of these words, Tracy Thresher, is a 42-year-old man living with autism.

“Tracy, good job! I am landing on my bald head some good vibes from you,” added Larry Bissonnette, a 52-year-old autistic man and long-time friend of Tracy.

Since 2000, Tracy and Larry have been traveling the globe on a quest to redefine autism, offering an insider’s perspective on the disorder. Part of their fame comes from being among the first with autism to communicate through typing, at first relying on others to help them control their muscle spasms, but now writing independently.

Their goal is to change public and professional views on the disorder, including preconceptions about disability and intelligence.

During their travels, they stopped at York University in Toronto, Canada, where they presented a screening of their documentary Wretches and Jabberers, followed by a panel discussion. As audience members arrived, Tracy and Larry were already conversing with the event organizers by typing on their iPads.

At first, Tracy comes off as clumsy and quiet, while Larry seems lost in echolalia, the uncontrollable repetition of words commonly associated with autism, their outer appearance revealing none of the thoughtfulness and humour later conveyed in written form.

Larry views the main goal of his self-advocacy to make “intelligence seen as possible, no matter how weird you act or how little your speech is. Autism is not so much an abnormal brain, but abnormal experience. My difficulties are not with thinking and knowing, but with doing and acting.”

They have no oral language skills and engage in odd, uncontrollable rituals. Growing up, both were labelled ‘low-functioning autistics,’ presumed to be mentally retarded. They were excluded from normal schooling and faced the challenges of social isolation in mental institutions and adult disability centers.

Today, we know that including students with special needs in regular classrooms can greatly improve development and quality of life. Yet according to the Canadian Council on Learning, a large number of students with the disorder continue to be excluded from mainstream classrooms.

According to the Autism Society, 500,000 Americans with autism will reach adulthood in the next 10 years, but Tracy and Larry wonder whether we will find a way to embrace these individuals or if we will continue to marginalize them. Larry suggested that, “the problem isn’t autism, the problem is the lack of understanding of autism, lack of resources, interventions not being met with the person in mind, and assumptions being made about the person.”

Performance is often a reflection of the individual in context. Through their advocacy, Tracy and Larry say that sufferers of autism are more disabled by the environments they live in than their own bodies.

Tracy’s accomplishments are a testament to the potential that some with autism possess. He has presented at numerous local and national workshops and conferences, and has consulted to schools. He is also a member of the Vermont Statewide Standing Committee, and has worked for the Green Mountain Self-Advocates.

An artist, some of Larry’s notable achievements include his paintings, which are in the permanent collection at the Musée de l’Art Brut in Switzerland and in many private collections around the world. His work was most recently featured in the Hobart William and Smith Disability and the Arts Festival.

The goal behind their efforts is to encourage people to re-examine misconceptions about autistic people, and to allow educators, professionals, and the public to discover the individuals behind the label. This view aims not to romanticize the struggles of autism, but to promote the idea that if autistic individuals cannot learn within the current educational system, schools need to adapt.

Allowing these individuals to develop their own unique talents will help them thrive.

– Sara Benceković, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today