About a year ago, I attended a breast cancer retreat where I met a very interesting woman, whom I’ll call Vera. Vera held a strong belief that her positive attitude had actually saved her life! I was just coming back to the hotel from my early morning run when I came upon her sitting outside, enjoying her breakfast of coffee, donuts and a cigarette. We soon got to chatting and sharing our stories, and I learned that she had battled cancer not once, but twice. Five years after being declared “cancer-free” from stage 3 breast cancer, Vera was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Her doctor told her that the cancer had spread to the point that it was inoperable, and gave her only months to live. As she lay in bed, thinking about how to share this devastating news with her family, she got a visit from the doctor who had treated her for breast cancer years before.
He said to her, “You don’t have to accept that death sentence, Vera. How about I give you some radiation treatments to try to shrink your tumors? At least it might give you more time. What do you have to lose?”
Vera replied, “Doctor you are right. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If God saw it fit to save me from cancer once, he can do it again. I am putting this in God’s hands, and trusting in His plan for my life.”
The radiation treatments shrank the tumors, which could then be surgically removed, and fifteen years later, a cancer-free Vera was sharing her fascinating story with me as she blew smoke “O’s” into the air.
Did her optimistic attitude actually have such an impact on her health that it saved her life? Now that is a topic of hot debate in the blogosphere!
Yesterday, I read a very interesting and thought provoking post from “The Big C and Me”, which challenges this whole notion. The author, Renn, quoted these words from Gayle A. Sulik, Ph.D, author of Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health:
Optimistic attitudes “may help people to feel better emotionally,” but they don’t “positively impact cancer progression or survival… People who think positively get cancer and die from cancer at the same rates as people who do not.”
Dr. Sulik is absolutely right. Technically, if we take into account the scientific evidence, Vera’s positive attitude had nothing to do with her surviving cancer. So if an optimistic attitude cannot help you to live longer, then what’s the point? Isn’t it just as well to wallow in misery for the rest of your life if you are going to die anyway? Well, that’s your choice. Nobody gets out of this world alive; whether you have cancer or not, you are going to die of something. A positive attitude may not help you to live a LONGER life, but I can assure you, it will help you to live a HAPPIER life. Isn’t that what is really important? (And who knows? Maybe Vera’s positive attitude DID impact on her survival.)
Contrary to the existing evidence that attitude is not a factor in surviving cancer, our book, 100 Perks of Having Cancer Plus 100 Health Tips For Surviving It, provides scientific evidence to support the notion that ATTITUDE can and does impact on longevity and survival rates! However, it is not a positive attitude alone that can increase your chances of surviving cancer and reduce your risk of a reoccurrence; it is something that we call a SURVIVOR’S ATTITUDE.
A Survivor’s Attitude combines positive attitude with positive action. We believe that a positive attitude is important to your quality of life, but if you really want the best odds of surviving cancer, you have to be willing to do the work. Studies show that making lifestyle changes such as exercising, eating a plant based diet, and limiting alcohol consumption CAN and DOES improve your odds of surviving cancer. Are you willing to lose the weight? Quit smoking? Give up the burgers? Commit to an exercise plan? Simply put, having a Survivor’s Attitude means that you are willing to embrace these lifestyle changes in order to give yourself the best chances of surviving cancer.
Does attitude make a difference? While having an optimistic attitude or a pessimistic attitude may mean diddly squat when it comes to surviving cancer, choosing a Survivor’s Attitude just might save your life!