- Question from freebird: Can you cause your cancer to come back just by being afraid that it will?
Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W.
I am glad that this question was raised, because I'm sure that is on the mind of the majority of people. It is a very popular notion in our culture today that if you have a positive attitude you can get rid of your cancer, or that you never get it or that it doesn't return. If you think about it, that notion is truly an oxymoron. An oxymoron means two things that don't go together—like "jumbo shrimp." The reason I call it that is to think about telling somebody what is the worst news of his or her lifetime and then ask them to be positive just doesn't make sense. Having bad feelings and down days is neither good nor bad—it's just normal. The only people we ask to have a positive attitude at all times are people who have had cancer. I can be miserable all day long and nobody is going to reprimand me about being positive. You only 'have' to be positive if you have cancer.
Having that philosophy or notion or belief is like living in tyranny. What it does to you as a patient is that on days that you are down or depressed or sad or anxious or worried—which is normal—you will feel even worse because you have accepted the notion that those are bad feelings. You need to work hard to get rid of that notion. It is not fair. It is putting a burden on the patient, while it serves many good purposes for the people who are saying it. If you are going to be happy and positive all of the time, then I don't have to worry about you. It also leads me to believe that if I am positive I will be fine. The philosophy serves everyone except the patient.
You need to know that people will tell you that you need to be positive. You need to be prepared in how to handle that comment coming at you, and that is something that you want to do in a way that is comfortable for you. What I think works is that when someone tells you to be positive, suggest they walk in your shoes first. And inform them that when people speak to you that way, it's really not helpful. You need to protect yourself as much as possible from that theory because it is burdensome and hurtful. A bad attitude will cause only one thing and that is a bad day. The best reason for having a good attitude is that on that day you will enjoy yourself. But neither the good nor the bad attitude will affect the illness. It will affect the quality of the day that you are having.
Your fear is just the natural outcome of having this diagnosis. It will not cause the cancer to come back. I work with a thousand women a year and I have never met one that doesn't suffer from fear, either enormous or very enormous. It's normal. Not bad, just normal. It will have no impact on the course of the cancer.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Dealing With Breast Cancer Fears featured Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about aspects of breast cancer that cause concern.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in June 2002.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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