Newsflash: Happiness Doesn’t Cure Cancer

Warning! I’m a bitter Betty today. I’ve lost another friend to cancer. This post is full of raw emotions and grief. During chemo, I encountered plenty of well-meaning but stupid people. Even in my post-chemotherapy life, I’ve had to smile politely and change the conversation when people say things like “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” or “You gotta stay positive! If you let yourself think too much, all that stress will trigger the cancer to come back.” Um, no. While I do believe in a mind/body connection, telling someone who has been SICK that they need to stay happy, lest they become ill again is just blaming the victim. What it really says is, “Well, you did this to yourself by feeling down, stressed and tired. You can’t feel those negative emotions any more.” Gee, thanks. It’s nice to know that I basically gave myself cancer because I’ve cried, gotten angry at people or bit off more than I could chew at one point.

Throw in a "bitch" there if you want.

I hate to break it to ya, folks, but cancer doesn’t just hit pessimists. Lots of optimistic people get cancer. And some of them become bitter. And some don’t. But outlook has really no bearing on whether treatment works or not. A study published in 2006 had this to say:

However, neither situational nor dispositional optimism predicted CA 125 falling to normal levels (< or =35 U/mL).

CA 125 is a protein in the blood that can indicate the presence of cancer. So whether someone was optimistic or not, their CA 125 levels didn’t go back down to normal. What it does have a bearing on is how well you can (somewhat, sort of, kinda) cope with what’s going on and begin to rebuild after chemo is over. I was really angry at everyone during chemo. I did my best to keep breathing and work through my anger, but I did get mad. A lot. And I cried. A ton. But I kept going to chemo, I kept all of my appointments and I tried to be pleasant around my doctors and nurses. I also spoke up when I was having a crabby patty sort of day. So if you’re dealing with some hard shit right now, go ahead and get angry. Explode in tears or scream or throw something (a soft something. Like an organ). Then take very deep breaths, wash your face and try to move forward. That’s all we can do. PS Optimism is a problem among doctors, too!

  1. Right? And it’s not just cancer, any chronic or super serious illness! Someone close to me once said that MS is totally caused by unexpressed anger. Um…what?

  2. I never understood people negating anger. It’s a valid human emotion, it can just get out of control or becoming overwhelming sometimes. You have every right to be angry. I would probably be angry too if I was diagnosed with cancer, for so many reasons.


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