09/09/2013 04:25 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2013

Cancer WithOUT Joy

My name is Joy, and at just 33 years young I confronted my eventual mortality very unexpectedly head on.  I was surprised, shocked, and definitely not happy to hear what 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men will hear at some point during their life.

"YOU have cancer." came as a total shock to me, and I felt very scared, sad, and an almost paralyzing fear of death and dying.  The last thing I felt was JOY or any happiness -- understandably!  

So I get it -- that horrible "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" reaction you may have had when you heard or saw just three words standing alone with no further explanation, "Cancer with JOY." As I often say when speaking to groups, "No one's happy they have cancer. But you can have cancer & still be happy!"  That's the reason I started "Cancer with JOY," writing a book with the same title, developing a live program now in demand at hospitals, cancer treatment centers, and even in churches.  On the cover of my book and on my t-shirts (Yes, there's t-shirts!) I have the sun to signify warmth, optimism and hope.

"ARE YOU KIDDING ME?"  I usually get this reaction from someone who's just been diagnosed, or someone currently in treatment, or from family and friends who are trying desperately to help someone stuck in a negative funk after diagnosis.  I especially get it from those who've found out they're terminal (This always gets me -- I mean, aren't we all 'terminal???'  I could die before someone who's got terminal cancer and has been told they have months or even just weeks to live.).  

HOW can you face "Cancer with JOY?"  How can you have cancer & still have joy?  I think that curiosity is what's made my book a best-seller; people want to discover how someone who's been there, who faced not only cancer, but stage four cancer -- and as a young adult (not someone who could say they've lived their life because they are much older!) found joy and happiness throughout the journey!  They hope that they can do it too!  

And the great news is they can!  I'm your personal guide through cancer helping you face "Cancer with JOY!"  Now once people realize that's my name, they understand "Cancer with JOY" is totally unique because of the double literal as well as figurative meaning.  When I have a chance to explain it a bit, I hear more often, "Now YOU'RE bringing Joy to others facing cancer?  Oh, that's really great!!"  But it's also such a positive take on a devastating thing (I think it makes more "sense" to see "Stupid Cancer" or even the t-shirts with profanity & cancer, right?  I've seen shirts that say F--- Cancer.  Those are the ones that make me say, "Are you kidding me?").

Cancer is a huge problem; someone is diagnosed with cancer in the United States about every 25 seconds!!  But my message is that diagnosis -- cancer -- does NOT have to steal your JOY!

Now let's be realistic.  When speaking to groups, I often say, "I don't -- and you won't -- face 'Cancer with JOY' Every single day.  There's days I'm in pain, and it hurts.  There's days I'm sad, angry, bitter (I don't have hair when hardly no one else I know at this age has to DEAL with ALL of this!!).  And my #2 "DO" of 13 in Chapter 4 is "DO get mad, sad, bitter, depressed, etc." Just don't stay stuck there! This is all about how do you have more good days than bad because you've been introduced to this idea... that you can face 'Cancer with JOY' -- literally now & figuratively!"  I'm honored to receive standing ovations when groups have heard the whole thing.  

But I get it.  Three words, standing alone, with no other explanation.  On the cover of my book, on a t-shirt, etc.  If you faced or are facing cancer withOUT Joy -- and that's the ugly alternative to facing "Cancer with JOY" -- it might even make you mad to see something like "Cancer with JOY."  After all, misery does love company.  Miserable people don't like to see others happy when they are miserable. But where is facing cancer withOUT Joy getting you? Now you're an angry, bitter person... who's trying to fight cancer wasting precious moments of life stuck in the negative! Just know that there's a better way to face cancer now. 

Especially if you've been told you're terminal (like we all are).  Do you really want to spend your last few months, weeks, or even days in a bad mood?  That's when you really want to face "Cancer with JOY" and make the most of the time you've got left.  Think Queen Latifah's character in the movie Last Holiday. Laughter is the best medicine, and that's why I keep on explaining -- too many desperately need that "dose of JOY" to complement their "dose of medicine," be it chemo, radiation, and/or surger(ies).

How many of you think taking this approach hurt me as I was going through treatment? With the "mind over matter" saying out there what could it hurt? How many of you think it might have helped me? Finding humor gave me more moments of happiness during my life and what could be wrong with that? After all, my favorite definition for the word attitude is "the way you choose to respond." You choose your response to life's obstacles! Have you heard of the formula E (Event in life) + R (Your Response) = O (the Outcome)?

How do people facing the same event (E) have such different (O) outcomes? It's because they choose different (R) responses!

Have you seen how great Valerie Harper is doing these days? No surprise to me; the People magazine cover said she was facing terminal "Cancer with JOY!"

I hope you take the time to understand how facing "Cancer with JOY" can really benefit you and whoever you are supporting who is facing cancer right now, because everyone wants to be happy.  No one wants to be miserable, and like I said earlier cancer does NOT have to steal your joy.  I and many many others are the living proof.  And if we did it, so can you!  That's joyful news indeed!