I hate these words: “he lost the fight with cancer” or “she’s so brave in the face of her illness – what a heroine.” Hate is a pretty strong word — but then I’ve been living with chronic illness for 30 years and some feelings have been building inside.
I’m thinking of the recent press coverage of Ted Kennedy’s brain cancer with quotes like, “He’s a fighter and he can beat this.” Or, “Kennedy in the latest fight of his life.”
If winning means beating it, then chronic illness leaves no winners. Is it our fault if we don’t “beat it”? Does that make you a loser if you don’t get well? If you cry or complain, does that mean you’re no longer brave? And are you making yourself sicker with that behavior? That’s a too big a responsibility and a slippery slope I won’t go down.
I grant that there’s something hopeful about the idea that we can ‘”beat this”. But I don’t believe this kind of optimism necessarily leads to better outcomes and it can lead you to ignore the stuff you can impact.
In a terrific opinion piece (“Fighting isn’t how you deal with cancer) in The Boston Globe, Judy Foreman quotes theologian Reinhold Niebur’s prayer, adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
In fact, studies show that people who are optimistic about getting better don’t do any better regarding disease outcomes than those who are pessimistic. When people have said to me, “Your great attitude is what made you better”, I wonder: If I hadn’t gotten better — would that mean I had a lousy attitude?
If he asks, I’ll give Teddy this piece of advice. Focus your optimism on that which you can do to feel as well as possible — while exploring all of your options. Figure out what you can control. Forget the fight but do take a moment to rock back and forth a few times while taking stock of those you love. Oh, and keep working. It seems to do you good.
Rosalind aka cicoach.com