July 3, 2008

Magical thinking

"[In] a 2001 Canadian study of 200 ovarian-cancer survivors, almost two-thirds believed that stress caused their disease and more than 80 percent attributed their survival to a positive attitude. A related study of women who had breast cancer produced similar results — fewer than 5 percent chalked up their survival to any medical treatment. Or (as I do) to just plain good luck. Meanwhile, a Danish study of 6,689 women, published in 2005, found those who were highly stressed were 40 percent less likely than others to get breast cancer."
Alas, no amount of magical thinking changes disease outcomes: that's a scientific fact.

The paradox of such misguided thinking is that so many people insist on having quite barbaric treatments. If they really believe they can cure themselves by thinking about their happy place you'd figure they'd forgo all but the least intrusive / painful medical interventions.

As I've said before, for those who succumb, positive thinking might mean they die happier than someone who is mightily pissed-off about getting a raw deal, but the outcome for both is identical, as is the expected life span. This has been proven in controlled studies. Prayer won't help either. Again, proven.

The burden (and inherent moral judgment) placed on people to be perky about ugly, painful diseases, or any death-dealing illness or accident, might be far more about the selfishness of those around them, who want to believe the person isn't suffering, and who demand not a mere stiff upper lip, but a whole Disneyland of joy and mindless optimism - even from people with naturally dour personalities, who are expected to transform.

It's shameful that we expect so much from those who are ill, and so little stoicism, generosity and care from ourselves.

On the other hand, the moral superiority claimed by those who endure and live, believing it was their own marvelous little self that achieved the dumb-luck outcome is just as repellent and irksome.

Stress test


  1. Anonymous9:33 PM

    I was in the hospital and I heard from one of the rooms, "Don't worry everyone, I'm gonna beat this thing." Which I thought was a really positive thing to say, until I realized it came from the maternity ward.

    /he he

  2. Hmm. I've always had definite ideas about people facing something like cancer, which may be fatal.
    It's not brave for the person with the disease/disability/injury. They HAVE to live it. Kids who are ill are not brave. They are forced to live with the disease and take whatever is dished up to them. (Some older kids do opt out of treatment when they've had enough especially when a disease like cancer returns.)
    It's the people who are powerless who are brave. Maybe brave is not the word I'm wanting. But the loved ones of the person living the disease/illness/injury can only look on and have no real power to take away the pain or make things better.
    I hope that makes sense and doesn't sound callous.

    If I have cancer I have to live it. That's it.
    If someone I love has cancer I have to watch them suffer and have no power. That can be harder than having to live it.

  3. Fully understand what you're saying Kae, but can't agree that it's harder for the family or friends.

    Kiddies: whole different ball game, poor little mites, they have no say, no choice, and it would be torture for them and torture for parents. No ifs or buts about it.

    The best that modern medicine can offer for many life threatening illnesses are utterly barbaric treatments. That most people willingly submit is more out of passivity, fear and faith in doctors, rather than from any notion of personal power or control over the matter.

    Many a cancer patient, from things I've read, refer to the events following a diagnosis as, essentially, like being on a factory conveyor belt, their lives (their bodies) propelled into the long cycle of physical assault, as they frequently wish to die rather than take any more of the cure.

    There's no power in that, and once you're on the conveyor belt, there's no getting off half way. Most people are so physically and emotionally wrecked that they couldn't even make such a decision.

    As much as it's difficult for family to merely stand-by and watch, that's absolutely nothing compared to what the patient is going through.

    Of course, after death, if or when it comes, that's the only time it's harder for the family.

    Take another example, something totally different: it's never ever more difficult for someone to witness or assist after an horrific, bloody car accident than it is for the people actually in the car.

    That's my thought.