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Interesting article: “Smile! You’ve got cancer”

RiotAtMidnightRiotAtMidnight Member Posts: 29
edited February 24 in Health and wellbeing
A friend shared this article with me today, by the great American writer Barbara Ehrenreich. It’s about 10 years old but I found it really interesting, and am so curious to hear thoughts from the wonderful minds here on this forum. Especially those of you who have been in this world for a little while longer than me. Even just a few weeks in I found a lot resonated for me and has given me a lot to think about!


(It looks like several of Ehrenreich’s books are about to be re-issued in May 2021, just FYI).


  • AfraserAfraser MelbourneMember Posts: 3,387
    Positive thinking can come much more easily to people who have. a comparatively easy time! I had no nausea, no fatigue, no aches and joint pain from AIs. I had really sore feet but only for a brief time and my lasting side effects are all manageable and have not altered my life or abilities. It’s not so much that being cheerful and positive makes recovery easier or better (as the article states, there’s no proof of that at all) it just makes being around you easier for others! It’s promoted for that reason. Up to the individual as to what’s in it for them - sometimes very little! 

  • Keeping_positive1Keeping_positive1 Member Posts: 120
    I am not sure why I chose the name "Keeping positive", perhaps it is a reminder to myself to keep positive and many days I fall short of that!   It just makes it easier for others to be around people who have a positive attitude.  
  • Blossom1961Blossom1961 Regional VictoriaMember Posts: 1,826
    @Keeping_positive1 It makes it easier to be around ourselves if we are positive too! Even if we don't feel like it.
  • RiotAtMidnightRiotAtMidnight Member Posts: 29
    I found the article quite provocative in that way @Blossom1961 - because I agree that sometimes we must coach ourselves to be positive. It’s a marathon not a sprint, right? I think that her critique is less about whether you personally feel like a positive thinker, and more about whether there is a dominant “positive thinking” message that silences some people from exploring other emotions like rage.
  • AfraserAfraser MelbourneMember Posts: 3,387
    Feelings are intensely personal and vary accordingly but while rage can be a temporary release (and a normal reaction), I’ve never found it a sustainable way of dealing with anything. Even when directed against other sentient beings who might possibly change, improve, apologise! Certainly not against rogue cells. In the end, it can cause even more harm to the one already hurt. Explore by all means but maybe not stay there. 
  • Dory65Dory65 Member Posts: 307
    Thanks @RiotAtMidnight,
    an eloquently posed reality-check.
  • MicheleRMicheleR South AustraliaMember Posts: 200
    Interesting but i could only get through half of it.

    Why bother raging against things which try to help even if the well meaning isnt always helpful? If you dont want to buy a pink shirt dont.

    Of course its not a good thing to happen to anyone but ive tried to make the best of it and move forward which is not the same as having an epiphany that life is so much better now.

    Ive had every emotion. Emotions can't really hurt you its what you do with them. 
  • Dory65Dory65 Member Posts: 307
    @RiotAtMidnight succinctly summarised Ehrenreich's main point with, "there is a dominant “positive thinking” message (dogma) that silences some people from exploring other emotions...", in relation to everything from losing your job, heartbreak, disability, disease ...with an undercurrent of blame surrounding attitude.

    "...rather than providing emotional sustenance, the sugar-coating of cancer can exact a dreadful cost. First, it requires the denial of understandable feelings of anger and fear, all of which must be buried under a cosmetic layer of cheer. This is a great convenience for health workers and even friends of the afflicted, who might prefer fake cheer to complaining, but it is not so easy on the afflicted. "

    "Whether repressed feelings are themselves harmful, as many psychologists claim, I'm not so sure, but without question there is a problem when positive thinking "fails" and the cancer spreads or eludes treatment. Then the patient can only blame herself: she is not being positive enough; possibly it was her negative attitude that brought on the disease in the first place".

    I certainly share Ehrenreich's "sense of outrage over the disease and the available treatments (see all of out threads on side effects!). What causes it and why is it so common, especially in industrialised societies? Why don't we have treatments that distinguish between different forms of breast cancer or between cancer cells and normal dividing cells? In the mainstream of breast cancer culture, there is very little anger, no mention of possible environmental causes, and few comments about the fact that, in all but the more advanced, metastasised cases, it is the "treatments", not the disease, that cause the immediate illness and pain."

    Penelope Schofield, wrote: "We should question whether it is valuable to encourage optimism if it results in the patient concealing his or her distress in the misguided belief that this will afford survival benefits... If a patient feels generally pessimistic... it is important to acknowledge these feelings as valid and acceptable."

  • FLCloverFLClover Sydney Member Posts: 839
    You’re right @Dory65. I agree that cancer is not something which should be sugar coated, and we should be able to express our emotions without fearing we will make people uncomfortable. I’m not sure how it was 10 years ago when this article was written, but I don’t think it’s like that now though. I don’t feel like there is fake cheer and that we are not encouraged to complain. In all the pages I’m part of, women share all the difficulties they are going through and are encouraged to vent and feel anger when they need to. I think that pretending to be positive all the time and suppressing our feelings is a lot more damaging. And women being made to feel that it returned bc they weren’t positive is just cruel. It just seems that people like putting the blame on the woman herself, since an actual reason for it hasn’t been found. Easy that way. She got it, or it returned, and it’s her own fault. Not the fact that as the article also suggests, treatment isn’t how it should be, and that it’s the main thing making women sick. The fact that chemo and radiation damage the immune system and cause long term damage to the body, which then weaken it considerably. Of course after that the body can’t function as well as it used to, and is susceptible to all sorts of ailments and diseases. But let’s not blame the slow progress of research. Let’s blame her. It’s easier that way. And yes, I do think research is progressing too slowly. It’s a lot better than it used to be, but not as it should. And the most ridiculous thing is, that a vaccine for covid seems to have been manufactured in months, yet better treatment for cancer is taking years and years 🤔. Please. I don’t believe in the efficacy of this vaccine, and I don’t believe better treatment couldn’t have been found by now. Too much profit from it all for big ph. But as I said, until then, we cry when we need to, laugh when we feel like it. And fake it til we make it. 
    M ♥️
  • Dory65Dory65 Member Posts: 307
    I take your point @FLClover. I don't have a problem with anyone's positive or any other attitude on this forum.  At the start of my own BC experience, I felt pressure to be stoic (not complain) and be grateful etc. from my own family (father, siblings), except my beautiful son who lives with me. At the time, my feelings of fear, physical and emotional pain and disappointment at the lack of true caring and support were validated by @Zoffiel who said, "My personal opinion about being positive is that it just makes it a shit lot easier for everyone else. Meh, when all their hair falls out they are entitled to an opinion".
  • ZoffielZoffiel Regional VictoriaMember Posts: 3,158
    10 years ago there were very few opportunities to share cancer experiences as we now can. 30 years ago no-one wanted to talk about post natal depression either. No-one wanted to 'encourage' bad thoughts. Because, as women, we are obviously so fucking suggestible.

    Back in those days the narrative was driven by the professions treating us, rather than those experiencing the disease.

    Those narratives focussed on surviving your cancer and (this really shat me) becoming a better person for it. Or suggested that your failure to bond with your child could be sorted by having a valium and a nice lie down. Just get over it and be a proper mum.

    I don't think trauma changes us, but it does put pressure on the fault lines. I believe that, for me, seeing others walking the same path and hearing their often wildly divergent experiences is a useful tool. For some people. For others, it just increases their anxiety.
  • FLCloverFLClover Sydney Member Posts: 839
    @Dory65 yes, I felt the same pressure. Especially from my mum. Just go and have the surgery, and be thankful you can! I wanted to slap her to her senses. My sister understood me the most, and helped me voice my fear and anger, and understand finally they were valid. Such a tough period. That’s why I like these pages, where we don’t have to be stoic. I’m not saying we should dwell in depression. Just that we need to be heard and understood that we’re doing it tough, even though we may appear perfectly fine, and even happy. I actually feel happy almost every day, but that doesn’t mean I’m not in pain or fatigued etc. And I still feel moments of anger and fear. I just don’t want to stay there. I also agree with @Zoffiel’s statement. It’s like that for all areas of life. Don’t tell me how to feel, and to just be positive. Listen to how I feel, and let me feel it, and just be by my side as I do. Anyway, keep the ones who get it close. The others at a distance 🤷🏼‍♀️
  • RiotAtMidnightRiotAtMidnight Member Posts: 29
    Wow, I have finally returned to read these thoughtful, amazing perspectives and just wanted to say thank you for sharing your responses and thoughts.

    I think the shock of my diagnosis really sank in, as well as AC dose dense round 2, and I had to check out of reading or thinking about cancer for a bit. 

    Your experiences and reflections mean a lot. Over and over again I’m reminded that there is no one “cancer story” and no amount of reading will tell me what my own one will be!
  • MicheleRMicheleR South AustraliaMember Posts: 200
    I just bought a pink teeshirt! Ha. Im doing the Mothers Day Classic with my family. The people benefitting I think are worthwhile - cancer research for breast cancer. Its not about the club, though im more than happy to be associated with you lovely people, its more to raise awareness so other (mostly) women dont get this wretched disease. My husband was a bit miffed i got him a grey teeshirt. He wanted a pink one as an act of support and I was just being practical thinking the grey one might get more wear. 

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