The importance of positive thinking in the face of a cancer diagnosis is a commonly discussed subject in the cancer community among survivors, caregivers, physicians, social workers, and researchers. It is also a perennial topic among the parents and children who participate in our Facing Cancer Together Education and Support Series.

But what does it mean for a family to think positively when one or more members are living with cancer? Does it mean they only see the bright side of things? Only allow their “happy” feelings to show? Not really. Research shows that an important part of building family resilience in the face of a cancer diagnosis is that each family member is able to express and accept a wide range of emotions — from tenderness, love, hope and gratitude to such “negative” emotions as anger, disappointment, or frustration.

At our Facing Cancer Together Spring Series each of the children’s groups created “Feelings Boxes” to initiate the discussion about the full range of emotions often experienced in a family when a parent is living with cancer. Learning how to identify and express those feelings and how common these feelings are in response to a cancer diagnosis can be very freeing for children and adults.

What becomes valuable is the ability to buffer distressing feelings with what Froma Walsh, a leading author on family resilience, describes as a positive bias. In other words, be keenly aware that half of the glass is empty but still take strength from the part that is half full. Given the inevitable highs and lows that are a part of facing cancer in the family, having the ability to appropriately express all of their feelings allows each member more room in their “Feelings Box” for joy, love, and hope.

For more information on how to create your own “Feelings Box,” see our Summer issue of the AngeLink newsletter.