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Helping Others through the Synergy of Science and Caring
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« A Fighting Spirit | Main | Hold Your Tongue? »

January 28, 2011


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Lisa Escaloni

I think it's very freeing for cancer survivors/patients to feel or think whatever they want, negative or positive. Consider that if you have a positive attitude, it may also help the people AROUND you including caregivers, and perhaps you'll get better care. Consider also that whatever attitude someone has, if it relieves stress, that's a good thing.

Wendy S. Harpham, MD

Lisa, I agree. If family, friends and caregivers can tire of caring for and about someone who is chronically pessimistic or angry. Thus, a patient stuck in a negative emotional place can compromise the first criteria of Healthy Survivorship: Getting good care.
More on this in future posts.
With hope, Wendy

Jonnie Hickman

This is very true Dr Wendy. I have lost many good friendships since my diagnosis because I am not always happy my life has changed. I miss me from before.

A friend said she saw a man/friend who was 18 and in a wheelchair at the grocery. She asked why I couldn't be more like him. He was always smiling. I said, "Yeah, for that 15 minutes." I am a pretty positive person most of the time, but sometimes I am a whiner.

Thanks for emotional freedom.

Jonnie Hickman

Lori Hope

Thank you for posing this question.

I believe that disabusing patients' belief in the power of positive thinking is wrong, not because I believe in the power of positive thinking to heal or cure, but because I believe in supporting the faith and belief of anyone rendered raw, vulnerable and traumatized by disease.

"Whatever gets you through the night," I say - just so it's not hurting someone else, which compels me to add one more thing.

It’s not appropriate to brag to other patients, in the context of a cancer support group, that thinking positively has helped put the speaker’s cancer in remission. That may make those who are not faring as well blame themselves for not looking enough, or being able to see at all, the bright side.

There’s one more question that comes up: What if someone’s belief in positive thinking and the power of the mind preclude their getting conventional treatment that could improve their health or assuage their pain? Are we obligated then to point out the limits of positive thinking? I faced that situation with my dear friend, a Christian Scientist. It was heart-wrenching. But I knew that she understood the implication of her choices (and my beliefs), so I respected hers.


I thought that the point of the article was that friends or family members should not constantly tell cancer patients to be positive or keep a good attitude. I did not think it was advising cancer patients themselves what attitude they should choose. Thanks,

Wendy S. Harpham, MD

I agree, Denise. The primary focus was about the impact of family and friends telling patients they need to be upbeat.

Lori,you asked about your obligations if a patient's belief in the power of positive thinking keeps the patient from good care.

Your comments provide a perfect seque into my next post. Thanks!

With hope, Wendy


Well said. I never thought I would agree with this opinion, but I’m starting to see things from a different point of view. I have to analyse more on this as it seems very interesting. One thing I don’t understand though is how everything is related together.

Wendy S. Harpham, M.D.

Dear Lift,

Every post on this blog is related to my belief that striving for Healthy Survivorship -- i.e., striving to get good care and live as fully as possible -- paves the way for what happiness is possible under the circumstances

I look forward to your future comments.
With hope, Wendy

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