I never knew anyone with cancer until last year when three of us were diagnosed: my aunt, my father-in-law and me. My aunt was the first to get the news. Many months went by and I did not call, write or visit.
My father-in-law (her brother) was diagnosed soon thereafter. Feeling scared and at a loss for words, I kept my distance, rarely called and despite his positive attitude, felt somber around him. We never told our children about their aunt or grandfather.
Three short months later, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. After my diagnosis, I learned that my father's mother and sister both died of breast cancer before I was born. I was never told.
Determined to keep things as normal as possible for our kids, I instructed friends and family to "act regular, even positive" at all times around me and the children. There were several people in my life who were so fearful and sad about my diagnosis that it soon was apparent they could not "play along" by acting positive.
I could see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices -- my diagnosis prevented them from being supportive to me. Their heaviness scared me half to death. I began to avoid them, the look on their faces and the stories they told me. Once when I was leaving a restaurant after a nice lunch with friends, I turned back to see one of my pals crying into her hands as others consoled her. Someone once told me that having cancer is like being at your own funeral. At that moment, that is exactly how I felt.
Others had no difficulty "overlooking" the diagnosis, keeping the status quo. In fact, they became chronically upbeat. My brother, for instance, hadn't seemed so happy and optimistic to me in years. My cancer diagnosis brought out the best in him. I attached myself to my husband's confidence. When I spoke to people who behaved as though I would someday be well, I felt stronger, happier and healthier.
My surgeon and oncologist were so positive that my husband and I named them the "sunshine sisters." Friends who made me laugh so hard it hurt while I healed from my bilateral mastectomy were rock stars in my eyes. I knew how much I would need them in the days to come and I was right, laughing helped with everything.
The fear of chemo and radiation diminished when a wonderful family friend told me I would "do great" through it all. She is a nurse at MSKCC and she told me I was going to "do great." I decided to believe her. "Do Great" became my mantra and all the people who could "play positive" in my life clung to that phrase as much as I did throughout the year.
None of it was easy. Buckets and buckets of tears were shed, but I have no doubt that everything was made better by the positivity around me. This is how the "Do Great" video came to be.
"You will do great" is one of those phrases we say to our kids thousands of times in a lifetime. We say it because it means "I believe in you." We say it because it means "all you can do is your best." We say it because we know that to succeed in getting through tough spots we must to some degree create our own reality.
My children were there when we shot the "Do Grea"t video. They watch it over and over on YouTube and they always point out me and Pop, their grandfather.