On a recent post, I highlighted a new study that looks at psychosocial support and improved survival after cancer. This is news that can be put to good use. But we also need to be alert to the dangers.
Years ago, Dr. David Spiegel and I did an hour-long television special together. He told the story (and I'm paraphrasing here) of a couple who came to see him. The woman started to cry, and her husband said, "Honey, don't cry! You're making your cancer grow."
One of the dangers of linking stress reduction and improved cancer survival is that patients conclude they must control all stress. Survivors feel pressured to feel calm and happy all the time, no matter what is happening in their lives.
I'm not diminishing the role of stress in health. But stress doesn't control outcome. If it did, few would survive. Patients shouldn't feel doomed because they are feeling sad, anxious or angry.
A few facts:
- Being diagnosed with cancer and going through treatment are stressful.
- Unpleasant emotions are normal, healthy and adaptive responses; they serve as a signal to reach out for guidance and support, and their expression helps us heal emotionally.
- Normal, everyday life is stressful, too.
- Trying to feel calm all the time - or at least to appear calm - only exacerbates the stress.