Fabulous new book - no more guilt girls

Just caught sight of this book review this morning, seems like something worth reading maybe
this quote is from interview of author by journalist and starts with the interviewer asking the author a question, the authors name is Siddhartha Mukherjee, he is an Onc:-

"Still, I can’t help asking for a ruling on some of the questions most of us wonder about today. Can a positive mental attitude, for example, really cure cancer?

“I think it does a nasty disservice to patients. A woman with breast cancer already has her plate full, and you want to go and tell her that the reason you’re not getting better is because you’re not thinking positively? Put yourself in that woman’s position and think what it feels like to be told your attitude is to blame for why you’re not getting better. I think it’s nasty.”

But is it true? “No, I think it’s not true. It’s not true. In a spiritual sense, a positive attitude may help you get through chemotherapy and surgery and radiation and what have you. But a positive mental attitude does not cure cancer – any more than a negative mental attitude causes cancer.”

A lot of my friends worry that stress is going to give them cancer. “I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s true. There’s a role of the immune system in cancer, but it’s not as simple as people make out. It’s not as if you get stressed, your immune system gets depressed, and all of a sudden you get cancer. Some cancers are more affected by it, such as lymphomas. But others – for example breast cancer – have very little to do with the immune system. There’s no evidence that stress gives you breast cancer.”

And yet we – particularly women – have been encouraged to blame ourselves for cancer. Mukherjee cites a study which found that women with breast cancer recalled eating a high-fat diet, whereas women without cancer did not. But the very same study had asked both sets of women about their diets long before any of them developed cancer, and the diet of those who now had breast cancer had been no more fatty than the rest. “In other words, women with breast cancer recalled – I suspect in an attempt to essentially blame themselves – having diets high in fat. It tells you how biased recollection is – but also how stigmatised the idea is, even today, because women think I must be to blame for something, I must have done something to myself.”

When people ask Mukherjee to name the five things they should do to prevent cancer, he tells them: “Give up smoking, give up smoking, give up smoking, give up smoking, give up smoking.” Like most of us, I’ve often been told that oncologists smoke more than anyone else – but when I ask how many of his colleagues smoke, he looks surprised. “Now? None. Zero. It used to be true. But not now.”

What does he make of that other popular claim – that people have cured themselves of cancer with a diet of fruit juice and wheatgrass? “More power to them,” he shrugs, reaching for his coffee. How does he explain their claims?

"We know there are spontaneous remissions in cancer, it’s very well documented. Many cancers are chronic remitting relapsing diseases – that’s their very nature. And human beings are pattern-recognising apes. It’s the secret of our success; we recognise patterns. So we induce patterns; we have an unbelievably inductive imagination, and we say to ourselves, if the sun rose in the east for the last 365 days it must rise in the east tomorrow. So we typically indulge in inductive rather than deductive reasoning. It’s very successful. But the problem with pattern recognition in this context is that it can become flawed. You might have a chronic remitting relapsing cancer and imagine it’s remitting because you’re drinking apple juice. But I don’t think it’s true. I think you’re having a chronic remitting relapsing cancer – and that’s the nature of your cancer.

“Maybe there are miracle substances out there that change the behaviour of particular cancers,” he adds diplomatically. “But history suggests to us that we have to be sceptics here. If it was so simple then it would have been solved a long time ago.”

Siddhartha Mukherjee’s ‘remarkable and unusual’ study, The Emperor of All Maladies,

all the best Nicola

Thanks for posting - I think I may give it a look. It sounds like something a lot of my friends/family should read!

Nymeria x

I’m part way through reading this and it is fascinating. I’m still in the early stages, going through the history of cancer and the development of treatments (the subtitile of the book is “a biography of cancer”), and feeling very grateful that I am being treated now and not in even quite recent history!

I love all your quotes Nicola - think they should be read by all breast cancer patients, and as you say Nymeria by lots of friends and relatives too.


And meant to say it is available on Kindle too. Jx

This is really interesting. I have been given a couple of leaflets about miracle foods for cancer, which I take with a pinch of salt if they suggest spending lots of money on one particular product and one book “What your doctor won’t tell you about BC” which I had to stop reading: I prefer to put my faith in the staff treating me. It would be good to read what an oncologist writes. Thanks for posting.

If anyone’s interested, here are the Amazon links for the printed and Kindle versions:



Downloaded to my Kindle, sod waiting for Christmas!

I think I heard it mentioned on Radio 4 but can’t remember what programme, as I tend to have the radio on as background noise so don’t always pay attention.

Liking the sound of this - thanks for highlighting it. I am about to download it to my kindle I think.


I read this book from cover to cover while travelling to radiotherapy on the train. It’s full of fascinating information and neither patronising nor too academic. This is an Onc who looks at cancer both from a professional point of view and from the point of view of the patient. Very readable - I thoroughly recommend it.

Lilac x

thanks - just bought it as a wee christmas gift to myself!


I think it sounds really interesting and will check out the Kindle version. However, I reserve my own judgement on the comments about stress and cancer. I’ve spoken to 3 oncologists about this, all of them said the oncology profession know there is a link between stress and cancer, they just haven’t pinpointed it yet and more research needs to be done into it. I was also in a stress management group with a young psychologist at my local cancer centre and she said many psychologists believe there is a link, we were also given notes to read about this every week. I base my own experience of getting breast cancer on the 5 very stressful years I had leading up to my diagnosis, which included the ill health of my father, a major flood at my house, my OH walking out of his senior management position, my father dying and culminating in me getting BC.

I read these posts with interest as I did smoke for 23 years (stopped 9 years ago), drank a fair amount of red wine in my time, am a little overweight, love meat, however did try vegetarianism for 18 months some years ago. On the whole though, I am a very healthy person, do lots of exercise, eat loads of fruit, veg. etc. etc. I had a hysterectomy and oopherectomy (removal of ovaries) four years ago as I had a large ovarian cyst. Afterwards the surgeon told me I’d had severe endometriosis, probably for years. Shortly afterwards, I suffered terrible night sweats and my local doctor put me on estrogen only HRT. He said that women with a womb cannot take estrogen only HRT because it can make the womb lining cancerous but since I no longer had a womb that didn’t affect me. So I took that estrogen only HRT for a month before going for my post-op check up to the hospital. The doctor there said I should stop the estrogen only HRT at once as, even though I didn’t have a womb, endometriosis meant that parts of the womb lining were still “floating around” inside me and the estrogen only HRT could make them cancerous! I elected to stop taking HRT altogether and since then I have been fine. Now I wonder, did that cause this breast cancer?
But, at the end of the day, I have it and, being spiritual, I choose to pray and let God take care of me. I strongly believe that negativity is the most useless emotion known to man-kind and does nothing but eat you up. It is hard to silence the negative voices in your head, but with practice it can be done. I’m not just saying I feel positive, I really mean it. I have every faith that I’ll come through all of this and live to tell the tale, for some years at least. As I said to my sister the other day, people are walking around this earth of ours without any diagnoses of any kind, feeling perfectly happy and normal, and for one reason or another (accident, tsunami, earthquake, murder), they will not live through another day. None of us knows what blows we will be dealt in life and the only thing we do have control over is how we deal with the blows. I could give into negativity and sit down and bawl my eyes out, lie awake every night imagining this cancer has spread, convince myself I feel nauseous and tired, use my condition as an excuse to have big arguments with my OH and everyone around me, wallow in self-pity and ask God, “why me?” But instead I get up, enjoy every day, try to keep to my normal chores as much as possible and try to see this as a learning curve. When I come through this (notice I don’t say if) I will use all the knowledge I have gleaned to help others who may go through this to stay positive.
So the good oncologist says that telling people to stay positive only makes them feel guilty if they cannot. Well I say, OK then go and feel negative and write and let me know how good it feels to feel rotten. I thank God every day for the love and support I have all around me and the brilliant NHS and all who work in it.

Hi all

Thought it might help if I posted the link to the article written by Decca Aitkenhead for the Guardian so you could read it in full:


Hope this is useful.

Best wishes.


Mabeline, love your comment. I am of the same frame of mind.

God bless you!

Suzanne x

My late dad was born before the end of WW1 and as a very young man he saw a lot of poverty in the 1930s. He was in the habit of saying “just remember, there is always someone worse off then yourself” if any of us complained about anything. When I was going through the worst days of my treatment I used to hear his voice in my head saying that and it kept me going. I also live round the corner from a graveyard and when I was out walking I’d cut through there and just be thankful for the fact I was alive. My own view is that there are many diseases out there that can kill you, cancer is just one of them.

I read the piece from The Guardian and was interested in this bit at the end about the uncertainty in all this:-

“I’ve tried to take it in my stride,” he says. “And the research grounds you because of the uncertainty – 99% of what we do in the laboratory is going to fail. So you deal with failure in a very fundamental way. And I was on call last weekend, the Thanksgiving weekend – and that grounds you. All of a sudden you come into hospital, and it grounds you in a way that’s essential.”

A friend of my OH’s does a lot of research and he lectures medical students in the theory of oncology at UCL in London. When I was undergoing chemo my husband went to a football match with him and they got talking about my treatment, what drugs I was on etc. His friend said oncology and the drugs used in it are still very much a black art, even in the modern age.

I am reading The Emperor of All Maladies on my kindle at the moment too. I think it is absolutely fascinating and I find Mukherjee’s writing style very pleasant and engaging. Sometimes I even forget it is specifically about cancer, it definitely has wider ramifications. At times it reads like a fascinating general exploration of society, attitudes, history and medicine. I have not finished it yet but so far I would definitely recommend it.

I agree with Cherub that stress can MAYBE contribute and my oncologist agrees.
In the 5 years before I was diagnosed I had a very stressful job,my husband had a testicular cancer scare,money worries,my fathers health deteriorated and his dementia got really bad,was made redundant twice,had 3 family deaths and I watched each person die. A week after my Dad died and on christmas day my 7 year old son had a fit and was diagnosed with epilepsy.
Prior to these years there are loads more stuff including a near fatel car accident and an ectopic pregnancy which I nearly died from.
SO I strongly believe that stress hasn’t done my health any good .
I will look out for this book.

i wouldn’t be surprised if stress was a contributing factor as well. i am quite an anxious person generally and worry about ridiculous things. stress i have had from work over the last few years has been endless. when i think properly just about the stress i have been put under from work it makes me stressed justing thinking about it! well i have decided enough is enough and i am going to get things into perspective and work is the first on list to be reviewed after i have got through my treatments. been speaking to my parents and hubby only today about this and they have all said about work and the stress i have put myself under or allowed work to put me under. cant believe how stupid i have been.

TTM xx

One definite way in which stress could be a factor is that it prevents us from looking after ourselves properly, which would include keeping an eye on adverse symptoms which should be investigated.

I know I had such a hectic life in the 2-3 years before diagnosis (by routine mammogram) that I didn’t have time to think about my health - if I had checked for lumps I might have been aware of my cancer much sooner.

I worked in London for 20 years and had a stressful life as a commuter, I also worked very long hours in most of the organisations I was with over the 20 years. Then when I moved back to Scotland I didn’t initially realise I was going to have to look after my late dad full time, so I went from looking for a decent job to being a carer. As dad’s dementia progressed I often didn’t have time to think about looking after myself as I had to put him first; I also didn’t have my OH here to help as he was organising the sale of our house down south. We’d had a very stressful major flood at that house back in 2001, the entire property was completely wrecked. I think I was up to Stress Factor 10 by the time my dad went into care. I was diagnosed with BC 12 months after he died.