More on Emotions and Health: How Much Are We Responsible?

One recent post on illness and personality struck lots of readers and elicited many interesting comments. This comment resonated most strongly with me.

“This makes good sense to me except that it’s not always a one to one (sort of an obvious comment). I’m thinking of my dear friend struggling with lymphoma right now who is one of the most positive and kind people I know, with a very good outlook on life. I guess all that can’t prevent you from GETTING the disease but it can speed your recovery (at least I REALLY hope so in her case).”

I might be a bit sensitive when it comes to the topic of cancer – and reading this comment and thinking about these scientific studies really hits hard. The relationship between personality and health conditions is tricky; after all, illness can strike unfairly and randomly, and is it always under our “control?”

Yes, negative emotion can play a powerful role – chronic stress is responsible for suppressed immune function, especially where cancer, AIDS and autoimmune diseases are concerned …but what about the times when bad things happen despite our best intentions to stay healthy?

What bothers me even more is this latest report to hit the media:

It’s just too much weight for a cancer patient to carry (aside from all the burdens they are already coping with) : that somehow he/she could be or have been healthier *if only* they weren’t depressed; and survive, too, *if only* they kept depression at bay.

And you can be sure that there are loads of cancer patients out there who are depressed enough without reading or hearing on the news that their depression is an additional serious threat to their health.

If indeed this is the case – that depression lowers your chance of surviving cancer – and the majority of cancer patients will experience depression – what’s important here is for doctors – and anyone else who is a support system – to treat cancer as not just an illness to eradicate but as a life-changing emotional issue as well. Patients need to be emotionally well-armed to cope with what could be debilitating treatments and what follows – a life forever altered.

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