Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Tyranny of Positive Thinking & Other Stuff (Issue #156)

Recently, I was surprised to hear one of tv’s talking heads say that a positive attitude didn’t appear to have any effect on the survival rate of cancer patients. I checked around and he wasn’t fibbing. The conclusion was based on a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the results are to appear in the December issue of the American Cancer Society journal Cancer.

Initially I thought, “well that sucks.” Then I read further and was surprised to find that many doctors were relieved by the study’s findings, none more so than Dr. Jimmie Holland, a psychiatrist who wrote the book The Human Side of Cancer: Living with Hope, Coping with Uncertainty.

Dr. Holland coined the term “the tyranny of positive thinking” to describe the approach of those who preach the mind-over-cancer mantra. She believes it puts tremendous pressure and unreasonable expectations on people struggling with this disease. She thinks no one should believe they’re dying because they weren’t being positive enough.

Now that makes perfect sense to me.

Dr. Holland believes there certainly are benefits to staying positive during treatment. It’s just that positive thinking alone doesn’t appear to extend a cancer patient’s life.

That makes sense to me too.

I worry that too many people, like me initially, won’t read or listen past the headline - Upbeat Attitude No Match For Cancer* - and succumb to negativity and depression if they or a loved one are stricken with a terminal illness.

Certainly, negativity and depression are way stations on the road towards acceptance but I’d sure try to keep my visits brief at the former and hurry towards the latter. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating a rush to accept a death sentence but rather a rush to accept that what will be, will be. Once you’ve accepted where you’re at - accepted that some things are just beyond your power to affect - peace descends, time slows down and suddenly everywhere you look there’s a rose to stop beside and smell.

Naturally, treatment is focused on the body but the mind and spirit need tending as well. They’ve all got a stake in the outcome. Do what needs doing for all the parts of you that are ailing.

And I'm convinced having a positive outlook on life, whether that life is measured in weeks or years, is part of a good, overall health package.

What I think it boils down to is this: If given a few months to live, would it be better to spend them depressed or optimistic?

I can’t imagine a lengthy debate.

I wouldn’t want to go to sleep every night fearful it may be my last.

I’d rather open my eyes in the morning and be pleasantly surprised I was still here.

Simplistic perhaps but complicated makes me dizzy.

*Probably made that up.

Other Stuff I

There have been significant changes in my life this year which I'll detail eventually. Not the least of them was inheriting Benny, the Jack Russell Terror. Suddenly, at 56 years of age, I had a toddler in the house again - a toddler that could run like the wind - while chewing shoes.

I’ve had to carve out at least a couple of hours a day to deal with him. Walks are mornings and evenings and many of you know that most of the time we explore the territory across the road from my house. It’s a field/woods combination that borders a creek that runs through my town. Recently, a paved walking/biking path was built that intersected and paralleled the ones created over the years by fishermen and kids taking shortcuts to school.

I’ve found that nearly every day something happens on one or both of our walks - small things usually - but things of interest to me and perhaps some others; things that arouse a sense of wonder or that might add bits of lore to the collection rattling around in my cranial attic.

I’ve found myself wanting to write about them but didn’t think all that many of you would be interested in reading it. So that leaves me considering starting another blog, among other possibilities. Which leaves me wondering where the time is going to come from - which means I need to consider making even more changes.

Which makes me want to lie down.

Stay tuned.

Other Stuff II

A week or so ago I saw a singer on the David Letterman show who knocked my socks off. I haven’t been able to get her song out of my head since. Thanks to YouTube I can share her performance with you folks.

I showed both sons and they were less than enthusiastic.

But what do kids know anyway?

She reminds me of an old-style chanteuse. She’s got a wicked set of pipes, a fine band and, I think, talent oozing from every pore. Her name is Nicole Atkins and I think she could become a Very Big Star.

Am I alone on this one?

You can check her out by clicking here.

Other Stuff III

I rarely plug another blog and I know there’s going to be some eye-rolling from the peanut gallery when I plug this one....

But if you’re a parent, or may become one - or enjoy kids, or were one yourself - check out Hilary’s recent post at The Smitten Image.

It’s warm and amusing and as a bonus, you’ll see some spiffy pics.


Ubiquitous said...

I think you'd be surprised by what we'd want to read. Well, what I'd like to read anyway. I can't speak for the attention span of others! Your (and Hillary's now, as of recently) blog is bookmarked as a reliable weekly read.. It always helps to consider life in someone else's shoes and you do a good job of that. :) As I am no doubt repeating, sometimes I forget about the 'real world' life outside the boundaries of the M25 (London). Your blog makes my feet itchy!

Hilary said...

I'm loving that Nicole Atkins song too and have found a few more by her that are also pretty good.

Thanks for the linkage :)

And hi Ubi! :)

Frank Baron said...

Thanks Dave. Seems to me you've been scratching that itch quite a bit over the last 3 years though. ;)

Yep, I think she's a keeper Hilary. And you're welcome. It was a fine post. :)

Sally said...

More writing? Another blog? How utterly marvellous! A talented writer's account of a walk is the next best thing to doing the walk, surely? And it's always fun to hear about Benny. You can count on my interest.

Frank Baron said...

Thanks Sally. You are an unusually perceptive and intelligent person. :)

Stace said...

For the sake of privacy I must be a little vague... but I know an individual who has a disease which means he has about 10, maybe 15, years left - he's currently 25 years old. As far as I can tell, he's living life to the full and having a great time. I know that in comparison to a lot of people's expectancies, 10 years is a long time. But it's very sobering to know that a good mate of my own age will die before I reach middle-age.

Reb said...

I found you by way of Hilary. Great post, would love to hear more about Benny. Ooh she is good.

Frank Baron said...

Sorry to hear about your friend Stace but it sounds like he's going about things sensibly. I too, lost too many friends at too young an age.

Reb, any friend of Hilary's is...someone to be leery of....;)

Thanks for stopping by. :)

Joanne D. Kiggins said...

No debate here about your comment on the cancer article. Thanks for sharing the song. Very nice. Oh yes, I meant to say this in the last post about your walk...make sure you keep that camera handy at all times. ;)

Chilldaddy said...

I think people want dying people to be happy so they can feel less terrible. Anything to lessen the discomfort of someone else's problem.

I work in surgery and I think tumors suck, and if I get one, I don't plan to be the least bit perky about it.

Frank Baron said...

I carry it with me on every walk now Jo. :)

Chilldaddy, I don't think anyone would - not at first. You have a difficult job. I can understand where you're coming from. Thanks for stopping by and having a say.

MagnoliaGirl said...

Well, I'm positive I'm going to die, does that count?:)

Yes, we all want to hear about anything you want to tell us Frank. Hope all your big changes are good or will soon be.

Yeah, that gal has some pipes and a very groovy song, too. Here's a guy I just discovered from Tupelo Mississippi where another rather famous dude is from.... http://www.paulthorn.com

Frank Baron said...

MG, I appreciate your kind words. :)

And thanks so much for the heads-up on the Paul Thorn Band! They very much put in mind of two of my favourite groups from the 70s: Little Feat and Wet Willie. Good old, kick-ass country rock. Don't hear nearly enough fine slide guitar these days. I'd pay a decent dollar to see these guys. :)

Dawn Allcot said...

Hmm... at first, I wanted to protest vehemently to the study about positive thinking.

But, stated the way you did, it makes utter and absolute sense.

Your observations while dog-walking sound intriguing... but I wouldn't put them on a blog. I'd write a book! :)

Frank Baron said...

Dawn, I think you may have just done an accurate, remote reading. :)

Crabby McSlacker said...

As a professional Crab, I also think the power of positive thinking is vastly overrated!

And I second your Smitten Image recommendation--Hilary's always got something great going on there.

Frank Baron said...

Crabby, I think you're kidding. But not about the Hilary part. :)

Kappa no He said...

It's amazing what they still don't know yet about cancer survival, or what they won't/can't say. I had a oncologist tell me diet was completely unrelated.

As for a Benny Blog. I'm all for it! The other day on my dog walk I saw an old woman hold her grandson under the thighs while he peed and she used him to write his name on the sidewalk. Wish I had brought my camera....

Kappa no He said...

It's amazing what they still don't know yet about cancer survival, or what they won't/can't say. I had a oncologist tell me diet was completely unrelated.

As for a Benny Blog. I'm all for it! The other day on my dog walk I saw an old woman hold her grandson under the thighs while he peed and she used him to write his name on the sidewalk. Wish I had brought my camera....

Kappa no He said...

Did I post twice? Surreal.

Frank Baron said...

The internet is a wonky thing Kappa. :)

And thanks for that story about the grandmother's educational artistry. :)

Lisa R. said...

Everyone, it seems, wants to read dog stories -- Marley & Me; John Katz's new dog book( can't remember the name); and just this week, Anna Quindlen's musings on her lab, in a slim new book, Good Dog. Stay.
So write it.

Positive attitudes are terrific, but not if they are forced. I hate it when I feel awful and some sunny soul says, "Cheer up." Well, I WILL, eventually, but can I do it when it feels right, please? And we writers know all the many creative uses for melancholy!

Frank Baron said...

I do believe I will write it Lisa. And yeah, cheerful urgings don't always fit the bill do they?

Thanks for dropping by. :)