Iris Mini: Acceptance

“You won’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” -Joseph Goldstein 

There are many stages in the process of adapting to change, especially when that change involves unwelcome events. In the context of cancer, you may experience many losses involving time, body, work, relationships, or perspective.

When things change, we need to recalibrate. Accepting an unwelcome change is a process that can involve stages much like grief — like denial, anger, or sadness.   

  • Acceptance is not about liking a situation or the emotional distress it causes.  

  • Acceptance is not resigning to feeling miserable or wallowing in negative emotions.    

  • Acceptance is about seeing all aspects of something we can’t control. Rather than trying to control it, we can change how we focus on and think about it.  

  • Acceptance can shift how your experience with cancer affects you.

Acceptance is

Acceptance is not


giving up



about making room


Gaining skills in acceptance can reduce the amount of emotional distress experienced in the context of cancer. Buddhism teachings tell us that pain is a human experience. We all have emotions and experience sadness and distress. Suffering is when emotional pain is accompanied by not being able to accept the thoughts and problems we are facing.  

Many people coping with cancer find that they can find a small place for accepting what they don’t want (while still having many emotions about it!) and for those who want to, finding meaning in the process. 

RAIN is an easy acronym for internalizing acceptance:

  • Recognize what is happening

  • Allow the experience to be there, just as it is

  • Investigate with interest and care

  • Nurture with self-compassion

Exercise: Finding and Increasing Acceptance

To increase your acceptance of your current situation, you might find it helpful to use metaphors. Metaphors are powerful images that, when visualized in your mind, can help you think of the concept of acceptance in new and creative ways. Experiment with these images and see if any help you to increase acceptance and reduce suffering.

  1. Think of cancer as the “noise” in your life. It is sometimes loud and other times soft. Imagine you have a volume dial that allows you to control the noise level, turning it down in times of stress.

  2. Imagine a tug of war with you on one side and cancer on the other. If you are tugging and engaging with it, you are working hard and struggling to keep the tension on the rope. If you let go, the cancer is still there, but you are not struggling with it or working so hard. 

  3. Imagine you’re a large soap bubble floating in the air. Smaller bubbles get in your path and cause friction while also getting in the way of moving in the direction you want to go. Imagine that you are floating forward, and instead of coming up against friction from smaller bubbles, you incorporate them into your bubble and keep moving. The obstacles are now inside you, but you are still moving in the direction of your life path. 

  4. Imagine you have a struggle switch in the back of your mind. When the switch is “on,” you struggle against your feelings. Now, suppose that the struggle switch is “off.” You let thoughts and feelings be there, but you’re not making them worse by struggling. This allows you to experience feelings and thoughts without them controlling you.


Want to learn more about acceptance? Watch this video about radical acceptance, a form of acceptance where you acknowledge and allow your current situation to happen without placing a value judgement on it nor invalidating your emotions and experience.