I got really depressed when people said I should think positive. I thought, "If that's what I have to do to survive, I'm never going to make it."
-John, a 52-year-old with melanoma
From "The Human Side of Cancer," by Jimmie C. Holland, M.D. and Sheldon Lewis:
Jane was echoing a refrain I often hear from people with cancer: the notion that feeling sad, scared, upset or angry is unacceptable and that emotions can somehow make your tumor grow. And the sense that if the person is not in control on the emotional plane all the time, the battle against the disease will be lost. Of course, patients like Jane didn't come up with this notion on their own. It's everywhere in our culture: in popular books and tabloids on every newsstand, on the talk shows, in TV movies.
For most patients, cancer is the most difficult and frightening experience they have ever encountered. All this hype claiming that if you don't have a positive attitude and that if you get depressed you are making your tumor grow faster invalidates people's natural and understandable reactions to a threat to their lives. That what I mean by the tyranny of positive thinking...
One time I was called by a woman whose husband had died of lung cancer. In her grief, she blamed herself for his death because she had not gotten him to any cancer support groups that could have taught him mind-body techniques, which she believed might have saved him. I tried to reassure her that she had supported him in every way and that these techniques would not likely have carried the day for him in the face of advanced lung cancer.