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Susan Diamond, LCSW, Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD and David Spiegel, MD
Don't force yourself to be more upbeat than you feel. Indeed, defining what constitutes a truly positive attitude is a complex problem. Being too positive all the time can verge on denial. This can inhibit obtaining necessary medical information and treatment. It also can lead family and friends to actively discourage the appropriate sadness and fear.
One of our patients related to her support group that when she started to cry in front of her husband about the progression of her inflammatory breast cancer, he said: "Don't cry, you'll make the cancer spread." Another member of the support group referred to this as the prison of positive thinking. We see many people with cancer whose family members are afraid that giving vent to these negative feelings will somehow unleash the cancer itself, as though the feeling uncontrolled is the same as the disease uncontrolled. Many people are desperate to do anything they can to control the illness, and are willing to exist in an emotional straight jacket if it will somehow improve their odds of survival. Yet another downside of the positive attitude often recommended to someone with cancer is that the progress of the cancer provides fertile ground for inappropriate guilt: If I can control the spread of disease through my attitude, and the disease has progressed, then there must be something wrong with my attitude. There is simply no medical evidence that a positive attitude per se has any effect on the course of cancer.
Reprinted by permission from Coping magazine
Stress and Survival
Coping in the Stressed-Out World of Cancer
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