When I think about all the cancer blogs I read, one of the things that strikes me are the differences in how people relate to their cancer. There appear to be only two camps.
The vast majority are fighting their cancer. They intend to win a struggle to defeat cancer. It’s a battle to the end and they plan to win. Almost no pain, maiming, or other morbidity is too much if it increases their chance they win.
A small minority are trying to accept their cancer. They want to find a way to co-exist with their cancer so their lives are as struggle-free as possible. In no way does their “acceptance” imply they are giving up. It’s hard for me to tell for sure, but it seems they more or less take the same opportunities to minimize or remove the cancer in their bodies as the “fighters.” Things change, though, with stage IV cancers, near the endgame. My impression, given very limited data, is the accepters are less likely at that time to sign up for profoundly debilitating treatments.
Another significant difference is what folks feel will cause their ultimate death. Many fighters are adamant they will “kick cancers ass” and, therefore, die from something else. I surprised how many make such forceful pronouncements that it seems even a hint they might not “win” will ensure their death from cancer. Maybe there’s some truth to that. Maybe this view of absolute positive thinking is the key. They’ve decided to focus their lives on fighting the good fight, which will of course lead to cancer’s defeat.
The accepters seem to have a completely different philosophy. To me it feels as if they’re dedicated to having as long and enjoyable life as possible. They intend to do everything they can to be cured from cancer, but they accept that might not happen, and cancer will kill them. Their positive thinking isn’t that they’ll be cured from cancer, it’s that they’ll have a good life, whatever comes.
I’m definitely in the “accepters” camp, but I always figured they are just two sides of the same coin. Pick whichever approach seems the best for oneself.
I’m not so sure anymore. My “terminal illness” psychologist gave me something to read the other day. It’s a quote from Dr. Andrew Weil’s book, “Spontaneous Healing.” I have no idea how much stock to give it. I like to see papers describing well constructed experiments with the statistically significant data. Dr. Weil’s conclusions, as far as I can tell, are based on anecdotal information. Even so, I think they’re worth pondering. Decide for yourself.
“Although there is no one state of mind that correlates exactly with activation of the healing system, a consistent theme in the interviews is acceptance of illness rather than struggle. Acceptance of illness is often part of a larger acceptance of self that represents a significant mental shift, a shift that can initiate transformation of personality and with it the healing of a disease… Most people do not go through life in an accepting mode. Instead they are in a state of perpetual confrontation, trying by the imposition of will to shape events and control situations… Acceptance, submission, surrender – whatever one chooses to call it, this mental shift may be the master key that unlocks healing.”