Editor's note

A few years ago my beloved aunty (she was the best, she wore pink leopard-print everything) was diagnosed with breast cancer. At first it looked good and then it didn’t look so good. She tried everything - from Western medicine to dietary changes to some of the more alternative methods. And of course, everyone had their own advice - miracle cures they were sure had worked for so-and-so’s friend who lived around the corner. The most common form of advice I heard though, was for her to “stay positive”. People assured her if she stayed positive she could “beat it”.

I have to admit this annoyed me a bit. How could cancer cells be influenced by positive thinking? And what about the added burden on my aunty - not only did she have to suffer through chemotherapy and a mastectomy, she had to be happy about it?

I wanted to find out if thinking positively could affect how well we recover from illness and disease, so I set about asking some experts in the field. I spoke to a specialist in pain, psychiatry, mental health, a GP, and someone who conducts research on stress and cancer. Surprisingly, all five said our mental state has been found to affect our recovery from various illnesses, and how likely we are to be ill in the first place.

But importantly (for me), expert Sarah Mansfield pointed out studies looking specifically at cancer didn’t find positive thinking had an effect on the disease’s progression or how likely you are to die. And she added the social pressure to stay positive can take a toll, and it’s important to remember grief is normal, and to be expected.

Alexandra Hansen

Chief of Staff

Top story

A positive mindset can affect some aspects of disease, but grief is normal and to be expected. from www.shutterstock.com

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