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A cancer survivor: Why positive thinking really matters

Don't believe the myths about positive thinking curing cancer. But do believe the truths about what it can do for your life.

Jane Ashley
Jane AshleyRead morehandout

There isn't any doubt that the power of positive thinking is a valuable attribute when you are diagnosed with cancer. But will positive thinking cure you?

That question comes up on a regular basis among those who have just learned that they have cancer and also among those who are "chemo weary" yet continue the fight. There have been a number of studies, but none support that positive thinking is a factor in being cured or that negative feelings contribute to succumbing to cancer.

So is there a reason to have a positive attitude? Absolutely. A positive attitude helps people cope with a disease which strikes without warning and  can recur despite aggressive treatment. Elizabeth Edwards said it best, "A positive attitude is not going to save you. What it's going to do is, every day, between now and the day you die, whether that's a short time from now or a long time from now, that every day, you're going to actually live."

What can positive thinking do for a cancer warrior? First of all, it relieves stress and can help lower blood pressure. A positive attitude can also help family members feel better and contribute to a more nurturing family environment. Most cancer patients as well as their family members know all too well the stark realities of cancer. It's difficult to carry on when patients receive bad news.  But a positive attitude helped me to want to do things that I knew would be beneficial to my outcome and helped me endure the fatigue, neuropathy, thinning hair and low blood counts which were the side effects of my chemotherapy.

While I know the realities of my Stage IV diagnosis, I choose not to focus on statistics. I always imagine myself as being among the smaller percentage of patients who survive. Why do I do that? So that I am not anxious and can sleep well. So that I can look at the 5-day weather forecast and plan a photography excursion for two days from now. So that I have a reason to begin writing another book with the expectation that I'll finish it. So that my husband and I enjoy lunch out. So that I can reach out to a fellow cancer warrior who is having a difficult time and offer encouragement.

None of us knows the date, time, or cause of our death.

So, I prefer to be happy and positive. I do my best to not be anxious over upcoming scans (over which I have no control as to the results). I try not to panic if I have a transient ache or pain. Instead, I seek joy on a daily basis, and because I am seeking joy, I find joy. Being positive might not save you from cancer, but I can almost guarantee you that if you are positive, you will find meaning in your life as well as happiness for every day that you live.

Jane Ashley was diagnosed with Stage IV rectal cancer in October 2014. She lives in Middle Georgia along with her husband. She enjoys photography, walking, and gardening. Her book, CANCER: The Light at the End of the Tunnel, is a 2017 Georgia Author of the Year winner and is available on Amazon.

This column appears through our partnership with Inspire, an Arlington, Va., company with condition-specific online support communities for more than a million patients and caregivers.