Few words – well let’s be honest – no other single word strikes as much fear into someone as cancer. I have been hesitant to tackle this topic on the blog because of its sensitive nature.
The noted author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book last year titled Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America. In the book, Ehrenreich chronicles her own cancer experience and “be happy cancer is a blessing” message she encountered everywhere during her illness and recovery. She goes on to draw the broader conclusion that positive thinking is pandemic and delusional in our society. In various interviews, she has decried the added “burden” that being forced to think positively in the face of disease puts on the sick person.
“The Father of Motivation” Dr. Wayne W. Dyer was diagnosed with leukemia last year. He has taken a little different approach. He sees it as an opportunity to teach others – something he has spent a lifetime doing.
Two very contrasting points of view from two very astute human beings. But cancer is not about philosophy. Cancer is personal. It is personal to the patients, the families, the friends.
A few years ago my wife lost a very dear friend to cancer at 49. She went through the radiation and the chemo and all the other treatments the doctors offered. After a hard battle, she lost the fight.
About two months ago I learned that my best friend growing up – really my other brother – had been diagnosed with cancer at 44. For the first 20+ years of our lives we were practically inseparable. After college, he moved to the east coast to take job, met the girl of his dreams, and started a family. We have seen each other and spoken only sporadically in the past 20 years, but time and distance cannot break the bond of brothers.
His battle has been up and down. Even from afar I can feel his courage and it is amazing. He is working with some of the best doctors anywhere, but they have not been able to agree on his diagnosis. He has progressed from radiation and surgery and now is headed for his first round of chemo.
I find myself daily thinking about his struggle and about the struggle we are all in the find meaning and purpose in this experience we call life.
So, obviously, I invest a lot of time and effort in promoting the idea of positive thinking on this blog, on Twitter, Facebook, and around the Internet. What is my take on this question?
First, I believe each person’s experience is her or her own and the evaluation of that experience is personal. Whether your challenge is cancer, an abusive relationship, poverty, loss, or some other life drama; you must be the one to put the meaning to it.
Can positive thinking, I prefer empowered thinking, cure cancer? I would answer that in the following way.
The evidence that positive (empowered) thinking makes a difference in life’s results when illness is not involved is overwhelming. Talk to as many great or successful people as you like and it will be a long time before you find one who is a negative thinker.
The NFL football team that goes out every week believing it will lose is not going to be your Super Bowl champion this year. This business person who doesn’t believe in her idea is never going to reach success.
It is clear that positive (empowered thinking) makes a difference in many spheres of life. It moves people forward, gives them the courage to try new things, and take the chances necessary to create new paradigms.
Negative thinking cannot and does not achieve any of those things. It holds people back. Destroys lives and limits horizons.
Let me ask you this. Do you think any of these facts change when you become ill? Does positive (empowered) thinking suddenly become a non-factor in outcomes? That does not make any sense.
Look, the world and our lives are a kind of game. Like any game, there are rules and parameters to the game that we cannot escape regardless of our thinking. We are going to grow old, we are going to get sick, we are going to die – all of us. Those are rules of this game and our thinking cannot alter them.
Positive (empowered) thinking is about how well we play within the game. As long as there is breath, you are still in the game. As long as you are in the game, there is hope. And, as long as you are in the game, your thinking is going to play a role in the outcome.
Does negative thinking attract illness? I don’t know. Maybe. Does positive (empowered) thinking cure any and every illness? No. Some cancers are so acute that they stretch the parameters of the game’s rules. Just as your thoughts will not protect you from a 500 foot fall off a cliff. There are rules to the game. There is no doubt that our thoughts can shift our realities, but they will not shift every reality.
Positive (empowered) thinking and negative thinking are not about blame or guarantees. They are about influencing the experience of your life in the game for as long as you are here.
The real question is which kind of thinking gives you the best quality of life for the next 90 days or the next 90 years? Spend a moment thinking about that and I’m sure you will quickly see which kind of thinking creates a better life for the healthy person and the sick person.