smiling can’t cheat death (by laurie)

I’m a reasonably happy person. And I believe that concentrating on the half full part of the glass has helped me to cope with many aspects of my life, including breast cancer. However, there have been times when a good wallow or a raging tantrum have been just as necessary and cathartic.

And I don’t, for even a second, think that people who worried too much, or got mad or who didn’t have a positive attitude brought cancer or their own deaths upon themselves. Nor do I believe that temperament or attitude is what causes one person to go into remission and another to succumb to the illness. I find the belief system that blames the patient to be repugnant.

In many ways, cancer is a crap shoot. It helps to have excellent medical care, good nutrition and the resources that help you cope with the disease and the treatments’ side effects. But luck plays a big role in survival as well.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, and so it appears have other women. Yesterday, I stumbled on a great post at Uneasy Pink, by Katie, who, in turn, pointed the way to Coco, guest-posting at Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer. These women really tell it like it is.

Last week, Canada lost Jack Layton, a leader who was, by all accounts active, optimistic and happy. And we lost him way too young. Many media reports used the common phrase “lost his battle with cancer.” Jack didn’t lose a battle – there was no failure on his part – he got cancer and died. No amount of positive thinking could have changed that.


(Shout out to my friend Sharon, who first used the phrase “tyranny of positive thinking” in my presence. She has kindred spirits out there, too).

Cross-posted to Not Just About Cancer.

7 Responses to smiling can’t cheat death (by laurie)

  1. annie says:

    When I was first diagnosed, someone in the GIST support group recommended this book:

    Chapter 2 is exactly that – the tyranny of positive thinking – it was such a relief after constantly hearing that the only way to survive this “battle” was to be happy about my diagnosis – to embrace my crazy sexy cancer!

  2. shendy says:


  3. justenjoyhim says:

    Thank you for this. Beautifully stated . . . as always.

  4. I agree that dying from cancer can be a complete crap shoot. I agree that stifling negative emotions is hurtful – that as they come up you MUST feel them to work them out. Suppressing emotions is exactly what the “new age” followers say causes dis-ease. You are actually agreeing with the Louise Hays of the world without acknowledging it. What I don’t agree with in your post is saying that a positive attitude isn’t important. It is extremely important. I found the other two links of the blog posts a bit extreme. I agree that these “support” groups that don’t allow honest, raw emotions are in fact NOT supportive or even remotely helpful (they are in fact causing even more dis-ease by not allowing their members to discuss their true feelings). Perhaps I am naive since I was diagnosed only a year ago while six months pregnant with my second child or because I have only been NED for 5 months….but I do whole-heartedly feel that breast cancer woke me up to life and to living. And believe me I was a pretty happy person before diagnosis..or so I thought. My diagnosis made me face my own mortality. It made me face deep dark demons, find out my true friends and support network, stop living a life of obligation, resentment, strife and to learn to forgive and move on; it helped me separate the wheat from the chaff, to seek out only those things that give me pleasure and make me happy because life is too short. Life is too precious. A positive attitude has helped me live my days in the POSITIVE…so rather than thinking “Damn it, I have to take those stupid Xeloda chemo pills again” — I have shifted to “I am going to take these amazing pills that will help save my life and be thankful that this medicine is available to me”… YES, I deal with cancer on a daily basis, my life is forever changed since my diagnosis. Sometimes I just look at my husband or myself in the mirror and say “well, this SUCKS” but then as soon as the words leave my lips I feel better for acknowledging that ugly feeling and quickly move on to thinking that my life could be a lot worse…It could be a life that was taken tragically in an accident or natural disaster as I watch the humbling morning news. But I don’t mourn the life I had before in the “old” normal..instead I am embracing this new normal because I am so very thankful to be here, to see my kids grow and thrive, to see my body miraculously dealing with all the drugs I am taking and still allow me to feel great. I truly feel that living life with a positive attitude, regardless of the length of your life, will allow you to live a more fulfilled life. It’s not the years in your life but the life in your years, right? I’d much rather be thinking and feeling positive in my time left on earth than wallowing in fear, self-doubt, anger or resentment in the time I have left. Life is precious so I am living it in the present moment and enjoying the NOW. Being present AND POSITIVE in each and every moment as much as possible…

  5. Hey Jessica, I loved your comment. Beautifully written and I agree with almost every word you say. I think you may have misunderstood me a little bit, though.
    I am a glass is half full, optimistic kind of person. I chose to see the positive in every sitiation and I tend to always hope for the best. I make a choice to be happy almost every day and I think that living with cancer is so much easier when one does that.
    What I criticize is when folks pass judgement on others for not being positive or worse, suggest that cancer returned on wasn’t cured because they failed to be positive enough. And I’m equally resentful of those who would squelch a healthy expression of anger and pain.

  6. Lahdeedah says:


    That is one of the best headlines I have ever read. “Smiling can’t cheat death.” Love your expressiveness, your tactfulness, your authenticity, your integrity.



  7. Oh Jill! That’s so lovely. Going to hold those words in my heart today.

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