Breast Cancer Drove Her to This


[Imagine a red slash through the smiley face]

The pinkness and cheeriness of the breast cancer industry made Barbara Ehrenreich note the pervasiveness of exhortations to be positive. This is from Saturday's New York Times, by Patricia Cohen:

.....In “Bright-sided,” [Barbara Ehrenreich] traces the roots of the nation’s blithe sunniness to a reaction against Calvinist gloom and the limits of medical science in the first half of the 19th century. Starting with Phineas Parkhurst Quimby, perhaps one of the first American New Age faith healers, she draws a line to Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science; the psychologist William James; Ralph Waldo Emerson; Norman Vincent Peale, who published “The Power of Positive Thinking” in 1952; and the toothy television minister Joel Osteen, who preaches the gospel of prosperity.

To Ms. Ehrenreich, the reliance on one’s personal disposition shifts attention from the larger social, political and economic forces behind poverty, unemployment and poor health care. “It can’t all be fixed by assertiveness training,” she said wryly.

Ms. Ehrenreich found that the more she listened, the surlier she became. All that shiny optimism, she said, was “like sitting in a warm bubble bath for too long.” Luckily she found other churlish comrades, scholars and doctors who were similarly skeptical of undimmed positivity.

“We began to call ourselves the Negatives,” said Micki McGee, a sociologist at Fordham University and the author of “Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life.” The group would meet on occasion and discuss their research and the news of the day. The thread of positive thinking that runs through self-help culture says, “If you dream it and believe it, it becomes reality,” Professor McGee explained. “That kind of thinking contributes to the economic bubble that we just saw explode in enormous ways. Barbara’s take on it is very important.”

Richard Sloan, a professor of behavioral psychology at Columbia, is a more recent member of the Negatives. He has written at length about the absence of scientific evidence showing links between prayer and healing in his book “Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance Between Religion and Medicine.”

“There is some relatively recent evidence of the benefits of positive affect, but not the simplistic approach that is advocated by coaches that all you need to do is be happy,” he said. “There is no evidence that trying to put on a happy face makes a difference.” Rather, those who are characteristically more optimistic may have an advantage over those who aren’t, but, he said, “you just can’t change who you are very easily.”


Janet Maslin didn't like it so much: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/12/books/12maslin.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper (My linking thing isn't working.)

15 comments:

Ricky said...

my personal experience is that following the natural rhythm of my actual feelings is the only way to go. positive thinking is great for strategizing, imagining, seeing the full range of possibility - positive thinking's not 'bad'. but if i kid myself about how i'm really feeling about things it only makes things worse. i need to get down in there with the worst of my feelings periodically. i guess what i'm saying is that all-positive and all-negative are both artificial and life-denying attitudes.

brca1 mutation said...

A major breakthrough in unraveling of the mysteries of breast cancer genetics was achieved with the identification of BRCA1 and BRCA2 also known as breast cancer associated gene 1 and 2. Identification and analysis of these two breast cancer associated genes had very significant impact on our understanding of breast cancer genetics. BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are linked to higher risk levels of breast cancer.

moe99 said...

I find myself take care of other people's feelings a lot when they are informed I have lung cancer. Or at least that's been my initial reaction. Because my voice is so ragged, people are afraid that I have the flu, and so the cycle starts--I assure them that I am not contagious, no I don't have a cold, I have cancer. Where, if the manifestation had been hidden, I would not feel the need to announce my diagnosis so, e.g. clerks in stores will come closer to actually hear my requests for assistance.

I come from a lifetime of smoothing things over socially and sometimes professionally. It's exhausting. And wearing thin. By the same token, it's one of the few aspects of my life I seemingly still have some control over. To put on the brave face.

moe99 said...

"taking" not "take" Not a good proofreader these days.

Snowbrush said...

I heard Barbara on NPR this week and I'm listening to you now on Progressive Radio. You are both excellent teachers.

Cancer Bitch said...

Thanks, Snowbrush, and to Matt Rothschild, who interviewed me on Progressive Radio.
I also have this blood disease which is considered to be cancer, but I feel I can't mention it much to people because it's too burdensome for them to contemplate: Oh, ANOTHER cancer? The worst effect of it now is constant itching, relieved by Atarax, which can cause drowsiness. I would like to mention the blood disease more, mostly for drama and self-aggrandisement, but I am able to stop myself, thank goodness.

Adamaris said...

Breast pain is a common problem among women, can still be thrown in your bed or reading the newspaper and suddenly felt a terrible pain in the breasts as if it was a blow that leaves you breathless. The bust is harmful for several reasons, perhaps most frequent menstruation. In findrxonline suggest that women should not be concerned by these problems because they can start a week before the period and extending through the last day, the reason is the increase in estrogen in the body. These hormonal fluctuations cause the breast tissue is filled with fluid and become more responsive, causing two things: hincones in the chest and put heavy stones when you are with the rule.

Cancer Bitch said...

I dunno, Adamaris. I don't like hincones in the chest. And I don't like heavy stones when I'm with the rule. I prefer light, rounded river stones. Or lapis lazuli. Earrings or pendant in silver settings.
And you?
C. Bitch

Cancer Bitch said...

And Moe99,
We shouldn't worry so much about others, but it is difficult. We shouldn't have to soothe others if they're upset about OUR cancers.
At least the days are over when people thought cancer was contagious.
C. Bitch

Sagar said...

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familial predisposition to breast cancer

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