Boston Blogs: Some cancer patients don’t want to be “brave”

Cancer patients hear it all the time — Be brave…you can win this battle…lick cancer…etc…

Some of them are sick of it. Cancer, they say, stinks. A positive attitude and all the pink ribbons in the world won’t save someone whose chemo has failed, they say. And, they are tired of all the chirpy advice. (See writer Barbara Erinreich’s comments from a 2001 Harper’s article, “Welcome to Cancerland.”)  

All of this is now being hashed out among three local bloggers. It started when prolific blogger Kevin Pho of New Hampshire ( Billed as “Social media’s leading physician voice.”) posted a chapter from a new book by  e-patient Dave. Dave deBronkart  the energetic embodiment of the connected patient, writes about “hope as a resource” in his take of surviving Kidney cancer — “Laugh, Sing and Eat like aPig.”  

Some people with cancer object to the constant barrage of “be positive” rhetoric, as reflected in comments on the site.  One goes like this:

 this excerpt makes me cringe inside. As someone with metastatic cancer, I often hear from friends and others who have read accounts of people who appear to have cured themselves of cancer by having the right attitude. The media loves (sic)to trot out this theme. The suggestion is that anyone who is sufficiently upbeat can prevail over their cancer. And, by extension, that anyone who does poorly must have the wrong attitude…

People with hepatitis or diabetes or broken bones do not get told to adjust their attitude. They are offered treatment regimens and told to stick with them. But cancer patients, particularly those without solid treatment options, are constantly urged to “think positive.”

Now, BIDMC CEO Paul Levy weighs in.

I started to write this post to offer my appreciation to Kevin, MD, for posting a chapter of ePatient Dave’s Laugh, Sing, and Eat Like a Pig, and for Dave and his publisher for graciously allowing anybody to read the entire chapter without having to buy the book. The story is compelling, and this particular chapter is especially so.

But that was before I read the exchange of comments on Kevin’s blog. At least one commenter took offense at her perception that Dave was glorifying the role of hope in the treatment of cancer, and in so doing might be disparaging people who do not experience that hope, suggesting that they are somehow weak and inadequate. As you read through Dave’s response and that of other observers, it becomes clear that he certainly did not intend to suggest such a conclusion.



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