Sunday, June 29, 2008

How much control do we have?

I managed to get my hands on today's New York Times magazine. Back when I got the Sunday Times I'd skim through the magazine without finding all that much of interest. Today I read the magazine from cover to cover.

The article that caught my eye was one that included a segment on why women who'd had breast cancer thought they didn't have a recurrence. The number one answer was a positive attitude, and at the very bottom was luck and Tamoxifen (4%). I thought it was odd that people give their positive attitude greater weight to their recurrence-free life than they do their treatments.

Having a positive attitude isn't all bad, as long as it's not forced and the person is genuinely happy and relatively calm. In that case, I can see how the person would not have as strong a fight-or-flight response to stress which would in turn put less strain on the immune system. I just don't know that this will prevent a breast cancer recurrence. What about all those people that ate really well, took care of their bodies, and were positive people, and who still got breast cancer? It may be that there are things other than a good diet, exercise, healthy living, and treatment that will prevent recurrence, but I don't know what those things are and I don't know if a positive attitude is it.

The thing that bothers me most with the idea that a positive attitude will prevent breast cancer is that this implies that a negative attitude will cause breast cancer and I think that's wrong. If people start thinking that way, then it's a small step to thinking that a person caused their cancer and then judging them accordingly. I know this isn't fair but it's not that unreasonable. Where do we draw the line? At what point are we responsible for a major medical problem like breast cancer?


Anonymous said...

I so understand and agree with what you say! The idea that if you have a "good attitude" you will escape all sorts of ills seems to have taken hold in many places. It is such a lie! Today most of us will not get polio because we have been inoculated, not because we have a good attitude. Guess you can tell that this is a hot button with me also.
Aunt Margaret

Anonymous said...

The whole area of mental health is already fraught with outsiders who think that attitude is a major determination of who becomes mentally ill and who doesn't. Even within the mentally ill community, there has been an increasing trend by which those who have 'genetic' diseases such as bipolar or schizophrenia are considered 'truly' ill. While those who have defective life coping mechanisms such as the personality disorders are considered fakers with bad attitudes.

Love, Mom