Quote of the Day

16 June, 2011

I credit John McIntyre, in his English language blog in the Baltimore Sun, with this one.

If I should succumb to some lingering disease instead of the hangman’s noose, and my obituary should include the words “after a long battle with,” I solemnly pledge that I will return from the dead and torment that obituary writer all the days he remains on this side of the ground.

 To which a reader has added:

Especially if it doesn’t say “after a long courageous battle with”, as if to imply you fought with cowardice.

Which leads me to Barbara Ehrenreich and her polemic against the “think positive” school of well-wishers to the cancer-striken, which you can find in this article or this book.

Like a perpetually flashing neon sign in the background, like an inescapable jingle, the injunction to be positive is so ubiquitous that it’s impossible to identify a single source.  Oprah routinely trumpets the triumph of attitude over circumstance.…. In my case, however, there was, I learned, an urgent medical reason to embrace cancer with a smile: a “positive attitude” is supposedly essential to recovery. During the months when I was undergoing chemotherapy, I encountered this assertion over and over – on websites, in books, from oncology nurses and fellow sufferers. Eight years later, it remains almost axiomatic, within the breast cancer culture, that survival hinges on “attitude”. One study found 60% of women who had been treated for the disease attributing their continued survival to a “positive attitude”. In articles and on websites, individuals routinely take pride in this supposedly lifesaving mental state….

….But others in the cancer care business have begun to speak out against what one has called “the tyranny of positive thinking”. When a 2004 study found no survival benefits for optimism among lung cancer patients, its lead author, Penelope Schofield, wrote: “We should question whether it is valuable to encourage optimism if it results in the patient concealing his or her distress in the misguided belief that this will afford survival benefits… If a patient feels generally pessimistic… it is important to acknowledge these feelings as valid and acceptable.”  Whether repressed feelings are themselves harmful, as many psychologists claim, I’m not so sure, but without question there is a problem when positive thinking “fails” and the cancer spreads or eludes treatment. Then the patient can only blame herself: she is not being positive enough; possibly it was her negative attitude that brought on the disease in the first place.


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