I just finished reading a summation of a celebrities journey with cancer, in which she claims that to survive cancer you must believe you will “win”. She went on to say that all of the “survivors” she knew had this belief. I am dumbfounded by this. Of course the women she knows believe they are winners; They are Alive! Does she really think that the women who died thought “I’m a loser”, and that is why they died? Did she interview women on their death beds and ask them if they thought they were “winners”, only to find out that they did not? Of course not!
This weekend a fellow ovarian cancer sufferer died. She was diagnosed at age 28 and 5 years later she is dead. And let me be clear: She believed she would be a winner. She had one of the best “attitudes” I’ve ever seen. She felt, with all her heart and soul, that her doctors would eventually cure her. She did everything she could to live. And she did so with a great attitude. And now she is dead. Let me be very clear here:
She DID NOT DIE Because of Her Attitude.
I can’t begin to express how offensive this is to those of us with cancer. I can’t think of any other instance in which people are told that their “attitude” will determine life or death. If it is true that attitude influences life and death, shouldn’t we then add the following to our list:
- If you have a positive attitude while driving you will never have an accident.
- If you have a positive attitude while raising your children they will never get sick.
- If you have a positive attitude while cooking dinner you will never start a fire, or under-cook pork.
- If you have a positive attitude you will never fall and get hurt.
- If you have a positive attitude you will never get the flu, or a cold.
- If you have a positive attitude while exercising you will never suffer an injury.
It is all so ludicrous.
Here is the TRUTH: Attitude will not save you. Period.
While I was going through chemo I was bombarded with the advice that I needed to keep a positive attitude, that this positive attitude would actually keep me alive. My mother was particularly vocal with this advice (sorry mom – someone has to get thrown under the bus, for illustrative purposes; I do love and adore you). At the time my mother was suffering from alopecia and had several bald spots. As I covered my bald head with a hat, since it was winter and I was cold, she would pull me over the our sliding glass doors and pull up bits of her hair and ask if I thought her bald spots were getting better. This usually happened shortly after she had chastised me for saying something like “I don’t think I’d make it through this chemo again if I recur”, to which I would hear “you can’t think like that, or it will come back”.
While I was going through chemo, completely bald, unable to eat anything except bananas and peanut butter, barely able to move from my bed to my couch, vacillating between chills and sweats, I heard complaints from others all of the time. People didn’t hesitate to complain about the issues in their lives, to vocalize their negative attitude about their own issues. My mother never said, or thought, or believed, that if she had a “positive attitude” about her alopecia it would go away! And no one would ever have implied such a ridiculous idea. Yet I was repeatedly told that I could not say, or think, negative thoughts, that these thoughts would kill me.
And lest you think I simply don’t understand the good intent behind this sentiment, let me clear: I understand that you think you are “helping” us feel better. I understand that you want to believe that my attitude will control my outcome. I understand that you want me to live and, perhaps more importantly, you want to believe that if you have a positive attitude you will live; you will not get cancer and if you do, you will be able to control it with your “positive attitude”. I get this, as does every other cancer patient I know.
How about a moratorium on the idea that “attitude” is everything? How about, the next time a cancer patient or survivor expresses fear, or pain, or anger, or exhaustion, we say:
“I hear you. This sucks and I can’t imagine what it is like living with this. I am sorry you are going through this and of course you can complain! Complaining, wallowing is self-pity, having negativity Won’t Kill You. It is a human emotion, it is your truth, it is your feeling and your experience and I will listen without judgement”
I will not live ashamed of my “bad attitude”. I will experience and live my fear, my anger, and my bitterness when they surface. My suggestion to the rest of you is: Leave My Attitude Alone.