Can Attitude Affect a Cancer Outcome?


How does attitude affect a diagnosis of cancer? Does a positive attitude prolong a person’s life? Does a negative attitude make cancer grow? This survivor discusses how attitude affects cancer in a person’s life.

How does attitude affect a diagnosis of cancer? Does a positive attitude prolong a person’s life? Does a negative attitude make cancer grow?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines attitude as “a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something” typically reflected in a person's behavior.

There have been many studies conducted on attitudes, behaviors and the ways they affect lives. People who study these types of behaviors are called behavioral psychologists. Behavioral psychologists focus on the study and alteration of people's behaviors, including actions, emotions and thoughts. Often, this profession crosses over into the field of counseling because many behavioral modification techniques allow patients to recognize and alter unwanted actions thereby producing more positively focused behaviors.

Many understand attitude has a unique way of affecting daily life. For instance, it’s easier to adopt a positive attitude when life circumstances are generally good and problems are few. But when circumstances drastically change in a negative way, it’s not always easy to keep a positive outlook, especially when those changes involve ill health.

A diagnosis of breast cancer can affect attitude. It can be extremely difficult to accept a life-altering disease. This can cause feelings of hopelessness and despair. These feelings can lead to a negative attitude. Thinking about a diagnosis of cancer can be overwhelming. More than likely, a person will begin to think about all the negative things associated with cancer, like chemotherapy, radiation and even the possibility of death. Along with treatments for cancer come nasty side effects. Who could be happy about those? But it’s not necessary to allow the weight of the negative aspects to shatter feelings of normalcy. Cancer doesn’t have to negatively impact attitude, although it often does.

When someone receives a diagnosis of cancer, that person can feel as if he or she no longer has control. These feelings can conjure up feelings of fear and sadness, bringing on a negative attitude. Often, a patient will feel the need to keep a positive attitude for fear of negatively influencing the outcome of their disease.

However, treatment is available to deal with these feelings. “An important part of coping with a cancer diagnosis is recognizing emotions and feelings,” according to an article by the American Cancer Society. “Treatment that deals with our emotions and relationships (sometimes called psychosocial interventions) can help people with cancer feel more upbeat and have a better quality of life. But there’s no good evidence to support the idea that these interventions can reduce the risk of cancer, keep cancer from coming back or help the person with cancer live longer.”

With that in mind, why then should the person diagnosed with breast cancer choose to adopt a positive attitude if it’s not necessarily going to prolong life? In my experience, I’ve learned I feel better, both emotionally and physically, when I keep a positive attitude. Even on days spent in physical pain or when struggling with extreme fatigue, I find that if I focus on the fact that cancer didn’t take my life, I can manage to push through the hard days. By finding ways to look on the bright side, I can overcome negative circumstances. It has become a helpful coping mechanism for me. On some days, I’ll admit I succumb to negativity, but I’ve noticed I feel worse and my emotions get off balance. I don’t enjoy feeling that way.

Adopting a positive attitude isn’t always easy and it can be especially difficult when family members or friends expect a person with cancer to always wear a happy face. The person with cancer can become overwhelmed, thinking it’s necessary to be upbeat and positive in an effort to protect loved ones. The person with cancer should be allowed freedom to embrace their own feelings of happiness or sadness and to realize one day may be different from the next. In some instances, where a person becomes deeply depressed, a physician may need to intervene with medication or perhaps recommend a support group.

Attending a support group can be therapeutic. “A support group provides an opportunity for people to share personal experiences and feelings, coping strategies, or firsthand information about diseases or treatments,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “For many people, a health-related support group may fill a gap between medical treatment and the need for emotional support. A person's relationship with a doctor or other medical personnel may not provide adequate emotional support, and a person's family and friends may not understand the impact of a disease or treatment. A support group among people with shared experiences may function as a bridge between medical and emotional needs.”

There may be no medical evidence to suggest keeping a positive attitude directly affects a breast cancer outcome, but I choose to believe it just might. No one has the right to expect a person with cancer to have a positive outlook all the time because fighting cancer is extremely difficult. But choosing a positive attitude can affect one’s physical and mental well-being in a constructive way. And by choosing to think good thoughts, our behavior can follow.

As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Proverbs 23:7

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