the darkness of this bright side.
“If you believe that your recovery depends on your attitude, then you feel this terrible pressure, like ‘How can I be positive when I’m so miserable?” said journalist and cancer survivor Barbara Ehrenreich in her new book Bright-Sided, offering compassion as an alternative.
The seed for Bright-Sided was planted ten years earlier when Ehrenreich, newly diagnosed with breast cancer, got a hefty dose of the “pink ribbon culture’s” exhortation to just thinking positively, which, she writes, “attempts to transform breast cancer into a rite of passage – not an injustice or a tragedy to rail against, but a normal marker in the life cycle, like menopause or grandmotherhood.” The seed germinated years later when, while researching a book about white-collar layoffs, she realized those who’d been downsized got the same line as people with cancer.
“I began to see how ubiquitous it is in our culture,” she said, and then recited, “This is not a bad thing, this is an opportunity for growth, and renewal, blah blah;” and “you have to think positively to get through it” – because nobody wants to be around anyone negative!
“It’s cruel and it’s also false,” Ehrenreich said.
Dr. Groopman has seen it from the other side of the stethoscope. “It’s wrong, it has no scientific basis and it’s very, very cruel to the patient,” he said, “because you’re basically saying you’re responsible for your cancer and because you’re having negative thoughts or because you’re despairing, you’re going to be responsible for your own demise.”
Indeed. “The failure to think positively can weigh on a patient like a second disease,” wrote Ehrenreich.
Psychiatrist Jimmie Holland has seen that happen far too often. She wrote in The Human Side of Cancer, about the “Tyranny of Positive Thinking.”
“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.
An excerpt from 20 things people with cancer want you to know by Lori Hope, courtesy of J.