There’s no magic formula for figuring out who will experience benefits from having cancer and who will not. Although some people notice positive aspects while on treatment (such as getting to spend more time with family members or feeling supported when friends visit or send gifts), often the positive personal changes aren’t noticed until treatment is over. For some people, recognizing positive changes may happen many years after treatment; other people may never feel there were any positive changes from cancer. If others ask you about finding anything positive in your experience, don’t make up positive things if you don’t really think there were any for you. It is also okay to ask other cancer survivors if they found any positive things from their experience, just keep in mind that not everyone will.
We do know that there are some things about people and their treatment that seem to be related to how much growth or benefit they experience. For example, people who are older when they are diagnosed with cancer tend to find more growth or benefits after the experience. This may be because, as you get older, your ability to think about complex ideas grows, and the idea of finding something beneficial in having a life-threatening disease like cancer is complex. Also, people who are older when they are diagnosed with cancer may be more involved in treatment decisions and think more deeply about the impact of cancer and its treatment, including both positive and negative aspects. Another characteristic related to growth is how much distress people experience during their cancer experience. People who remember that their cancer was very severe or life-threatening tend to have more growth. It seems like the more challenging the experience, the more potential for growth. That is, the hardest times and worst experiences may actually lead to finding more positive things about your experience in the future.
People who are more optimistic in general also tend to see greater benefits from having cancer. This suggests that the way you look at life in general is similar to the way you look at your cancer experience. If you tend to look on the bright side of things most of the time, you may also have an easier time looking for the positives in having cancer.
Remember, not everyone experiences positive changes because of having cancer. Perhaps you feel that, while many people may have done helpful or nice things during your treatment and you may have learned to cope well, nothing can make it okay to have had cancer. You just plain wish it had never happened to you. Even if you have experienced positives, you may also experience concerns about your health or well being, and it is important to attend to both positive and negative consequences of cancer.