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Positivity doesn't cure cancer

1 April 2016


I stumbled across this link on social media last week, accompanied by the short headline (above) that seemed at first glance to say “see – I told you so! Being positive doesn’t impact your health!”  It didn’t sit well with me.

At least part of my discomfort stemmed from my initial impression that the author was disagreeing with several of the thought processes I’ve previously outlined here.  For example, watching others dealing with impaired mobility has shown me (without any need for a published study!) that those who are able to approach this challenge with a positive attitude clearly do seem to do better in terms of their quality of life and how well they use the function they have.  Even looking just at myself, I’ve learned that trying to be cheerful while attempting something difficult seems to increase my chances of achieving my goals.  And even when I still don’t get there, there’s no question I’ve had a better time trying if I smiled as I went! 

Then I took another look at the study behind the tweet.

The authors were not dismissing the value of positivity at all!  There is nothing in the study to suggest that emotional well-being is not a precious and valuable commodity that we would all do well to aim for, even if dealing with cancer.  No one is implying that people who live with illness are not helped by doing what they can to feel supported, content, at peace or whatever (just read Amber’s recent post if you have any doubts about how helpful peer support can be for some).  They were simply highlighting the folly of saying things to a person with cancer such as “cheer up – with the right attitude you can beat this”.  Happy people don’t live longer than their miserable neighbours with the same disease.  They just enjoy their time more.

So how does this study impact my views on living with MS?  Not at all!  I’ve got one life to live, and I aim for it to be the best life possible.  So far I have been luckier than some and less fortunate than others in terms of my health.  I can dwell on the imperfections MS has dragged into my life or I can celebrate and relish all that I enjoy.  Most days I do a bit of both.  But I don’t need a formal study in adults with relapsing MS to know that my quality of life is directly impacted by my attitude and emotional well-being!

Unlike those diagnosed with some types of cancer, I don’t think that most of us with MS worry too much about exactly how many days we can stay alive with this disease.  For most of the people I know, it’s more about how we live with MS.  How we can manage our responsibilities.  How we can achieve our dreams.  How we will deal with future challenges that may or may not be part of what we will face. Probably the questions and fears are a little different for each of us.  The most effective coping strategies may also vary – but there’s a simple reason why so many of us value the impact on our lives of loved ones, pets, spirituality of whatever kind, hobbies, relaxation and more.  In addition to the things I do to keep my “emotional health” as good as possible, I hope I’m making lifestyle choices that will increase my chances of making it to a ripe old age in reasonable condition.  If I can be happy as I go, I don’t much mind if that doesn’t get me any extra days!


The Unaffected One