Cancer can't be beaten by positive thinking

Hi Pineapple - you’ve not posted for a while. How are you? and the hair? xx

Agree with you that how we think does have an effect and make us feel better in ourselves but also that if the cancer is there whatever we think it will do whatever.

Love to you

Liz xx

Hi Lizzie, i am good thanks - off to Turkey this weekend for 2 weeks, meeting with friend (of 33 years) and her man. We are celebrating our 50th birthdays together (same day and year!) so there will be afew G&T’S on the 14th. lol
Hair is growing long but still not thick enough to go scarfless - thanks for asking.

There are many other physical happenings due to our thinking apart from blushing but i suppose thats the one we have all experienced!
panick attacks - look at all the syptoms you can get with this

Hi Pineapple - Turkey sounds good. Never been there so let me know what you think as it does look beautiful country.

So glad you hair is growing. Mine is growing slowly but thick. I had a lot of hair before but was quite fine. I had it coloured the other week because we were going away and I didn’t want to take wig off and be grey and then brown so I went to hairdressers. They put what was supposed to be brown on it and it turned out gingery blonde so they tried again and it came out a light brown, even though the colour they put on was dark brown.

A Happy Birthday for the 14th - I had mine 3 years ago. Have a wonderful time - I’m sure you will.

I deal with my BC by just getting on with life as most of us do - we have to. I am due back at work in July and am looking forward to being with the girls again but not the work and the doctor I work for ! We have a laugh and I can put BC to the back of my mind. Still have a good weep now and again though


Yes it is good to see some research on the positive thinking issue. There have been a flurry of reports recently.

The journal Cancer reported on a study from the University of Pennyslyvania of 1000 patients with neck and had cancer. The lead psychologist of that report said: " We anticipated finding that emotional well being would predict the outcome of cancer. We exhaustively looked for it, and we concluded there is no effect for emotional well-being on cancer patients…I think cancer survival is basically biological. Cancer patients shouldn’t blame themselves…too often we think if cancer were beatable, you should beat it. You can’t control your cancer."

Trish asks where these ideas about ‘thinking positive’ come from. Apparently one of the first western books on positive thinking was written by a Protestant preacher Norman Vincent Peale in 1952 called "The Power of Positive Thinking’ Since then, in the west I there’s been a huge development of a culture of superfical self help books. I’ve said before that the TV quiz show Deal, No Deal, is a kind of metaphor for the depths to which ‘positiveity’ has become a cultrual essential in the west.

Then there’s the whole thing about cancer. As Susan Sontag wrote 30 plus years ago, any disaese which is only partly understoodd and kills is ‘awash with significance’ We have moved out of the era where cancer was only spoken of in hushed coded tones, but we’ve replaced it with a culture which I think can be equally oppressive…one where approval is given to brave battling jolly survivors, (and as far as breast cancer is concerned those jolly survivors publicly look youthful, pretty and very feminine) and those who dare to express other reactions to the disease…anger, grief, despair are pitied and pilloried and marginalised.

I want to find a way of living with and talking about cancer which is real, truthful and diverse. At an individual level yes we all respond differently (and I think the differences in our response can be much bigger than the alleged commonalities which we so often claim), and yes responses which include sadness and anger and desperation can be debilitaing and frightening, particularly for other people who haven’t got cancer.

Another reason…we simply cannot talk about death in an odinary way in many countries in the west these days. No cancer does not any longer neccessarily=death, but it is still associated with death and dying…unpleasantly…and we don’t have a cultural langage for dealing with that other than contsructing ideal types of contemproary dying heros who are brave and smiling to the end.

At an indiviudal level I think we each develop our own strategies for living as well as we can wit whatever the realities of the disease, its tretaments and its futures, holds for us. I know I can be happier and more optimistic when I’m feeling well as I am today…but when I’m not well…or very tried (as I have been for much of the last year on treatment) its much harder not to just curl up in bed and wish it all over.

Now that research is showing that ‘thinking postive’ doesn’t affect outcome, I still think we have a way to go to stop ‘thinking positive’ being the only way for managing the process.


I was pointed to a recent article in the New York Times called “When thumbs up is no comfort” on the pressure on public figures to show a fighting stance all the time (I’m not sure if the URL is allowed but it’s at ) - and the pressure this puts on the patient to be “strong” - equating to “don’t trouble me by needing help”.

I loathed the concept on my first time round in 1991, when I was bombarded with the full Bernie Siegel stuff, and I haven’t changed my mind.


I think Bernie Siegal has a lot to answer for!


Hi Everyone
This web site has kept my sanity since i was diagnosed last Sept with stage 3 BC when i have not been able to sleep even though i have not posted for a little while, reading is so theraputic. I do agree with the findings about thinking positive i am always being told that i will get better because “you are such a strong and positive person” that is such a pressure and i do beat myself up when i have a bad day. I came out of hospital again yesterday been there since saturday with neutapenia even though i am not supposed to have it and staff including oncologist was gob smacked as finished chemo in April and radio 3 weeks ago, am now just on Herceptin and have now had third.I feel that i should be better than i am and my daughter brought in Hello magazine, there was an article on the presenter Trish who was supposed to have worked a 17 hour day after just finishing chemo all i have done since last November is go in and out of hospital with infections with being neutrapenic so after that article i think i am even more of a waste of space.So there is a lot of pressure and no one wants to get better more than me but my body is telling me otherwise and by reading all the well balanced and informative comments it really really helps. We are all on a journey and we do not know where it will end.When i have a good day i want to rule the world. I had my first holiday break for three days, since last august, on the last bank holiday in Norfolk. I walked and drank champagne had beautiful food and kept saying to my partner that i was “estatic” but it was really lovely then within two days of coming home feeling really under the weather, two days later back in hospital on intravenus antibiotics so now feeling quite down. Anyone empathise with me?
Thanks for all discussions and banter it is a great site.
Much love

I don’t for one minute think that positive thinking will cure my cancer.I have cancer and there is nothing I can do about it other than rely on those who treat me to " know best what is right".I have always been a positive outgoing type anyway,and although these last months have stretched me to the limit at times and there have been times I have literally locked out the world in self pity mode I feel that I was allowed to do that as this disease has taken over my body and I needed to be negative to take it all in and “rebel”.
My positivity is returning and I will live my life with my family by my side.None of us know when we will meet our maker we get one chance and as someone said to me on another thread its the roll of the dice.
We all deserve to have a quality of life and I intend to do so for as long as I can, not in misery and woe is me I have cancer,but with happiness,I owe that to myself and my loved ones.


So glad I started this thread as all the replies make great reading. Thanks especially to you Jane for yet another fantastic posting - really interesting to read the background to all this. Sorry you have been so unwell Kate, yes I am sure we all empathise with you a thousand fold! Keep the responses coming - it sounds as though a collective sigh of relief has been let out that we can all do this cancer thing our own way and we can ease off (with evidence) the pressures on us to be permanently positive! Sarahx

I’m sorry you’re having a tough time just now, Kate - I’m sure anyone on the forum would echo me when they say don’t beat yourself up, and absolutely don’t compare yourself with the celebs!

They have advantages (and pressures) that most of us don’t have - someone peeling grapes for them 24 hours if that’s what they feel like on a specific day. They don’t have to be the mainstay to manage kids and houses and shopping and the laundry and finding something that fits your changed body… They also have the publicity machine feeding possibly not entirely accurate stories to the papers, and the pressures of their image being their income, so they can’t afford that image to be what they think the public can’t cope with. A 17 hour day? Doing what? How often? How many days did she take to recover from it?

A long time ago I read the biog of the TV fitness woman (Diana Moran?) who couldn’t let anyone know she had breast cancer because that would have been the end of her career - I found that desperately sad.

You can tell that public expectations about “strong, brave cancer patients” presses one of my buttons!
Take care,

I am really struck by how much all of us internalise the pressure to be positive and think positive. On thread after thread on these forums women write about feeling scared, afraid, angry, tired, ill etc and then apologise for doing so or make throw a way remarks about: I know I should be positive…but…"

A while back I read an excellent research article called “Thinking differently about thinking positive: a discursive approach to cancer patients’ talk” in which the authors, Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger, concluded that ‘thinking positive’ isn’t an accurate description of how people really feel but a vague conversational idiom influenced by socially constructed moral presciptions.

I long for the day when we can talk in a much more ordinary way about the rollercoaster of emotions which accompanies a cancer diagnosis and living with cancer and where we don’t feel the necessity to either exagerrate our ‘positivity’ or apologise for our ‘misery and woe.’

The article appeared in Social Science and Medicine 2000 and I downloaded it, but can’t find the link now.

Thought this might interst some of you…Sarah?

Lyn…strong brave cancer patients press my buttons too.

best wishes


Jane - hooray hooray hooray - I too want to talk sanely and truthfully about death and dying and cancer, and the treatments, too. Truthfully. Not positively. Not negatively. Truthfully. The so-called ‘positive’ outlook my doctors gave me when I was being diagnosed wasn’t truth. It was a well-intentioned but in effect harmful form of deception and self-deception and I suspect them of pusillanimously protecting themselves from my distress rather than protecting me from the pain of reality. That’s okay, they’re only human and I can be pusillanimous too. But I do believe that sort of thing is going on all the time, as you say, Jane, so many women on here beat themselves up about their fear, their anger, their sorrow. But for God’s sake if what we are going through is not frightening, lonely, sad and painful, then what on earth is? If this doesn’t hurt us what could? So I passionately support all efforts to inject sanity and truth, plain unadorned truth, into what we, anyone, doctors, nurses, say about our predicament.

snowwhite, JaneRA


So very well said snowwhite and JaneRA


well said Jane and Snowwhite…wow …great thread…Debrax

Oh joy - collective sigh of relief, too right, seabird (Sarah, but I love seabird, joyous name - I am seeing seagulls, albatrosses, the freedom of the skies…) - I’ll tell you what makes me happy, it is just hearing all this good sound sense - I feel I have been fighting people’s denial since dx and hearing this, it is liberating, it is therapy, it is balm, it is an act of kindness - my heart is singing now, I haven’t felt so good in ages. Sweet dreams seabird, Jane, Dahlia, all.

just bringing this up to the top for rosemarywine

thanks sarah, makes me feel so much better, it’s like feeling guilty about every unkind thought/word you’ve ever had about anyone and then you think maybe that gave me cancer? but then knowing that some of the kindest, loveliest people you have ever met have had cancer - some died, some still living - it’s keeping me awake nights - the sleeping tablets the dr gave me aren’t working and i don’t want to drink in case that makes the cancer worse, but then i just want to sleep so i think can ia glass of wine harm? then i think, but what if that’s the tipping point that sens me into the 25%?
Anyway last week in Oldham the breast surgeon told me I had a 75 to 80% chance of surviving 10 years and then ten minutes later the BC nurse said survival rates were in the high eighties!

maybe people are just more optimistic in Oldham than in Canberra? Maybe it’s the rain up here keeping us all so positive. Or maybe statistics are just “think of a number and do what you want with it?”

I think they can be more precise after the operation when they know a bit more, but your BC nurse may have been thinking of 5 year survival. Either way, the chances for you are very good.

If wine was problem I wouldn’t be here 4 year later! If I get very wound up about cancer (or anything) I have a glass in the evening to help me sleep, I don’t think it makes much difference in moderation.