Thursday, July 12, 2007

Being a curmudgeon may be good for your health

While checking my links to compile my big bear page with even more links than I compiled for my everything I wish I didn't know list of links, I discovered that one of my links didn't work anymore. Since I saved the article off line, I'm going to post it here. I love this article because it addresses the fact that people who use coping devises which they have found to work for them in the past, tend to do better when facing a cancer diagnosis. The point being that, for example, a curmudgeon should continue being a curmudgeon if that works for them. Trying to turn a curmudgeon into Polyanna because of some ideal about a positive attitude being the best way to fight cancer doesn't work. As a matter of fact studies have not shown that people with a positive attitude live longer although quality of life issues can come into play. I know for me research has always been my way of dealing with things that worry me, whether as a young mother, or as a mother whose child was selecting colleges, or in terms of work, and most recently in terms of melanoma. It's not that my research affected where my child went to college (she had her own ideas) or that it has much affect on the treatment I've received as a melanoma patient but it's my coping mechanism.

Below is the article from the Wellness Community which I can't direct link anymore.

The Challenge of the 'Positive Attitude'

People with cancer have long been told that having a positive attitude increases their chances of survival. How true is this? Is it important to have a “positive attitude” in order to battle cancer and improve outcomes? Not necessarily. And conversely, will a “negative attitude” mean a worse outcome or earlier death?

In a 2004 study by Penelope Schofield and her colleagues at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, Australia that involved 204 lung cancer patients, there was no evidence that a high level of optimism prior to treatment enhanced survival. However, the study underscored the importance of optimism in relation to quality of life. Those patients who were more optimistic were less depressed and more likely to adhere to treatment.

Another new body of work goes beyond just looking at a positive attitude and is examining its biological underpinnings by studying immune function and stress hormones. So far, the findings are similar to the Schofield study, indicating that successful coping is not necessarily about having a positive outlook or striving for a cheery disposition. Rather, coping in a way familiar to you (which could involve anything from stress relief to exercise) can prove beneficial. In fact, if someone is a natural curmudgeon, then continuing to be a curmudgeon may be the very thing to help lower stress, bolster the immune system and, possibly, influence the success of the cancer treatment.1

This new research does not just focus on patients’ tendencies to look at the glass as half-full or half-empty and how those attitudes may influence survival outcomes. Instead, researchers are examining how different coping styles may affect biological indicators of disease-fighting ability such as cortisol rhythms (a measure of stress levels) and natural killer cell counts (a measure of immune response). With better understanding of these biological variables, there may be ways (such as muscle relaxation, stress reduction exercises, or problem solving) to help patients maintain stress and natural killer cells at levels that improve their chances of extending survival.

For instance, researchers are measuring cortisol levels in womens’ saliva and counting white blood cells to determine if there is a connection between cortisol levels (a measure of stress) and the immune system. In an ongoing study, preliminarily published in 2000 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers found that patients whose cortisol levels were flat and didn’t follow the typical pattern of decline throughout the day, died sooner than women with normal, fluctuating cortisol patterns. The finding, researchers believe, indicates that a psychological intervention may boost one’s disease-fighting ability, a notion that in the past has driven the focus on “staying positive.”

Researchers are now realizing that people cope with stress in vastly different ways. Individuals need to identify solutions that match their natural temperament and personality. The next step is finding the mechanisms that enable patients to keep their cortisol patterns and natural killer cells at optimum levels and hopefully extend their survival. For some patients, this may happen by being uncooperative and unpleasant rather than positive if this is their normal coping strategy towards stress.

For example, at Ohio State University, an ongoing study is measuring not only survival rates but also endocrine responses and biological markers of immunity. Women participating in the study, all of whom share similar diagnoses for breast cancer, are learning muscle relaxation, problem solving, and time management techniques. They are making dietary changes, such as reducing fat intake, increasing fiber and exercising, all in the hope that some methods will bolster the women’s ability to fight and ultimately beat the disease.2

In essence, people with cancer should be encouraged to develop realistic expectations about their illness so they can make good decisions about their care and not be pressured to be blindly positive. The important distinction is that optimism should not exclude sadness, anger, sorrow, grief and hurt. You can decide to go on in the face of all that, knowing the outcome is not under your control.

Is There a Difference Between Optimism (Positive Attitude) and Hope?

Jerome Groopman, M.D., author of The Anatomy of Hope, elaborates on the above idea by explaining that a positive attitude or optimism is the thought that “Everything is going to turn out for the best.” But life isn’t like that. Sometimes bad things happen to wonderful people. Hope, in contrast, does not make that assumption, but rather, in a clear-eyed manner, assesses all the problems, challenges, or obstacles, and through information and education seeks and finds a possible realistic path to a better future. This future is often unknown and unknowable but is constantly re-assessed based upon new information. A person with true hope will experience a wide range of emotions including fear, anger and sadness and through it all will try to move forward through all the difficulties.3

At The Wellness Community, we understand hope to be something participants gain from each other. After all, there is no person a cancer patient would rather see than a cancer survivor. The ability to make pragmatic decisions in the face of cancer based upon being with others who know what you are going through is an essential ingredient at TWC. Participants learn from each other and can increase hope as well as reduce some of the stress associated with cancer.4 If longer survival is not possible, then it is reasonable to hope for other meaningful outcomes—like hoping for a peaceful death or the resolution of family conflicts. Gaining information and support from others with cancer may lead to positive immunological and stress hormone responses.


1. Wall Steet Journal. Amy Dockser Marcus. April 6, 2004

2. Wall Street Journal. Amy Dockser Marcus. April 6, 2004.

3. Groopman, Anatomy of Hope.

4. Benjamin, The Wellness Community Guide to Fighting for Recovery From Cancer.


Anonymous said...

I hope I leave this world with a good attitude. I will sure do my best, but it is nice to know that it is healthy to be just who you are and to feel just how you feel.

Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.
-Truman Capote
pretty wise little fella, wasn't he?

Anonymous said...

very interesting article..glad I finally took the time to read it.
I hope my attitude can always remain hopeful and positive even on days when I'm not sure I can..I'm tested often but so far, so good. It is nice to know it just won't matter much one way or the least according to this article.