The myths surrounding Anastacia’s breast cancer recurrence
This week I have been reading some excellent articles on the language we use to describe cancer – its diagnosis, treatment, and aftermath. In particular, Atif Kukaswadia’s The Problem With Fighting Cancer in PLOS Public Health Perspectives, is well worth a read. Kukaswadia refers to the military metaphors we are now so familiar with.
Often, the media (and by extension, society) describe someone with cancer as a “warrior” who “battles” cancer. ..On the surface, I get why we use this language. The language is meant to be positive – it’s meant to evoke support. It’s a tough and trying time, and family/friends/colleagues want to provide help in a way they can. So we follow the template set for us by the media and charities to try and help, as words fail us.
I was reminded of Kukaswadia’s words today as I read of the singer Anastacia’s recurrence of breast cancer. Here is a sample from one newspaper:
Now more then ever, she is determined to live by her motto “Don’t ever let cancer get the “Best of You!
A born survivor, Anastacia has one goal and that is to make a full recovery with the support of her family, friends and everyone around her.
Speaking previously about her successful battle against breast cancer, Anastacia blamed the stress of being a world-famous singer for her contracting the disease, as there was no history of breast cancer in her family.
And a selection of some of the comments from online readers:
this amazing woman WILL beat cancer again. Her strength knows no boundaries & she’s a true inspiration
poor woman but once you have it once you will get it again cancer is evil
You beat it once, you can beat it again!
Myth #1 cancer is hereditary
Myth #2 Stress causes cancer
The question of the link between stress and cancer has been investigated by researchers exploring whether people who experienced extreme stress were more likely to develop cancer. While it is true that stress impacts your health, cancer is a complex disease and to date no study has shown any evidence of an association between stressful events and a diagnosis of cancer. Yet the perception remains among many patients that stress was a factor in causing their cancer. I am aware that many of us can look back at the time of our own diagnosis and point to a stressful situation at that time – I know I can – but, perhaps we could look at it another way. Many people who are chronically stressed turn to unhealthy ways of coping – smoking, drinking or eating excessively. We know these are risk factors for developing cancer, so perhaps this is our indirect link?
Myth #3 Positive thinking will cure cancer
Although a positive attitude may improve your quality of life during cancer treatment, there is no scientific evidence that it can cure cancer. That is not to say that you shouldn’t have a positive attitude, just that it will not of itself cure cancer. What a positive attitude can do is improve the quality of your life during cancer treatment and beyond. You may be more likely to stay active, maintain ties to family and friends, and continue social activities. In turn, this may enhance your feeling of well-being and help you find the strength to deal with your cancer.
Myth #4 If you are diagnosed with cancer, you will probably die.
Cancer is not a death sentence. Advances in cancer detection and treatment have increased survival rates for most common types of cancer. In fact, more than 60% of people with cancer survive five years or more after their initial diagnosis.
I am terribly saddened to hear of Anastasia’s breast cancer recurrence ten years after her initial diagnosis, in the same way that I am sad beyond words when dear friends, like Jan are going through treatment for cancer again. Fear of a recurrence is something that all of us who have heard the words “you have cancer” carry with us. While we don’t want the fear to take over our lives, we still need to be vigilant – a local recurrence may still be curable, so early detection and adopting a healthy lifestyle is very important. And yet, sometimes no matter what we do, cancer comes back into our lives. It is the dark cloud that sits beyond our horizon and looms into view each time we hear of another friend, family member or celebrity who has been diagnosed with cancer.
We are working hard in the blogosphere to educate, inform and support each other through the stark realities of cancer and its sequelae. There are different ways in which we do this – some of us use humor, some sarcasm, some positive reinforcement, some impassioned exposure of the inequities and injustices in the system – and while the conversations in our blogs and online platforms may differ in how we speak about cancer, one thing I hope we can all agree on is that it is time to banish the myths surrounding cancer. These myths do more harm than just frighten us, they can also obscure the key messages to help women understand their risk of breast cancer.
A good myth-busting post. And thank you for pointing out Jan’s post. ~Catherine
Thanks Catherine and isn’t it great to have Jan back blogging again!
Well done, Marie. It is amazing how many myths and untruths exist around cancer. Since I was diagnosed, I’ve been intrigued by the war terminology we use to describe the cancer experience. It’s interesting how those on the outside portray us as brave warriors when in reality, IMO, we’re simply doing what we have to do to live.
Well exactly Nancy! I also found it interesting to read what Atif had to say, about how those on the outside looking in don’t know what to say and end up saying the very things that many (admittedly not all) cancer patients don’t want to hear.
Marie, an excellent blog today! Hearing about Anastacia’s recurrence 10 years after her original diagnois made my heart sink – as a 7 year cancer survivor, I admit I got hung up on another myth – that of the “magic” five year survival rate
Thank you for writing this. I had the same feelings upon reading the coverage of her recurrence. I do wish there would be some more comprehensive studies on the stress/cancer connection (if any). I participated in a study here in Los Angeles, and I was shocked at how limited the questions were. I routinely work ten hour days, 6-7 days a week, and there were almost no questions about hours worked, how much free time one had, etc. Most of the questions were related to having children and balancing work/family, or questions related to ongoing emotional problems.
Hi Sandra, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I have spoken to so many women who are convinced that there is a link between cancer and stress, and indeed perhaps some studies in the future may prove that to be the case.
I am so sorry to hear about Anastacia – she is a great singer and performer with a gutsy attitude to life – I can see why people would comment that she will beat this, but equally your blog has opened my eyes to how galling it can be to hear/read comments about battling and beating cancer. Great read!
I agree with the quote at the start of this piece about how it’s a tough and trying time, and family/friends/colleagues want to provide help in a way they can. So we follow the template set for us by the media and charities to try and help, as words fail us. As someone who has not had cancer but has had family members and colleagues who have, I am one of those who struggle with knowing the right thing to say too.
Thank you for dispelling the myth of stress causing cancer. I hear this said so often and it actually stresses me out! All we can do is try to minimize our stress, not as a preventative measure against cancer coming back, but as a proactive measure to live a peaceful and (mentally) healthy life. Great blog Marie!
Thanks for such a balanced blog – I am one of those who choose to deal with my cancer by maintaining a positive attitude. I am not naiive enough to think it will cure my cancer, but it does help me deal with it in a better frame of mind.
Thank you for this excellent post. While scooping articles I am always amazed how the same breast cancer story gets spun by different media outlets. What is most sad is that she has the disease again. What none of the stories I have seen so far tell us what type of recurrence whether she is Stage 0-4. That will really determine what treatment options are available and where she is with the disease.
Great point Susan and one that outside commentators rarely get the point of. Cancer is not a one size fits all disease.
I think we say, ” You are so strong – you will beat this” precisely because WE need it to be true. People who have been diagnosed with breast cancer (myself included) present a threat to Everywoman, just as aging people do. We also feel fear when we are seven years out and someone who is eight years out has a recurrence. Or when we are twenty years out and someone twenty-two years out becomes metastatic.
Oh Lois, what an excellent point. I hadn’t thought of this aspect of things but you are so right!
Thanks for the affirming words, Marie.
Thank you for writing this …… It’s almost five blog post topics in one!
I totally agree with your comments about the language used in the press, it can be hard to criticise when people choose to use these same words to describe their own ‘battle’ but I guess that is why there is never a black and white response! The press do love their cliches though eh?
Excellent way of discussing the myths as well….just taking the positive thinking one, I feel that this myth can load additional pressure on patients who have to deal with everything they are going through and ‘stay positive’ as well. I’m sure it also means that it is harder to actually accept when you are having a bad day and leads to hiding your true emotions by putting on the acceptable brave face!
Thanks again….great post xx
Hi Emma, thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts here, especially in relation to thinking positively. Again, I want to stress that it is not that I don’t think you should try to muster some positivity along the way, but sometimes, as you quite rightly point out, it can end up becoming another stick to beat ourselves with and another way of measuring our performance against others – i.e. we are better/worse at dealing with cancer.
Thank you for addressing so logically the pop psychology of the cancer “battle”. Well done Marie.
I love that phrase Deirde, the pop psychology of the cancer “battle” – it’s perfect! Great to hear from you today too x
Great post, and sadly it is still needed today, and will continue to be needed (you should probably re-post it every few months), as long as media and people continue to buy into the war language of cancer and the stupid myths–which will be a loooong time.
One of the quoted comments really got me, though: this pop star is an inspiration just because she listened to her doctors, did her treatment to survive cancer? So what, lots of us do that! I do NOT want to be an inspiration for showing up for my treatments. I want to inspire everyone to stand up and demand better treatment and prevention, and research on other causes of cancer that don’t blame the victim.
Well said Wendi!
I think the cliché that irritates me the most is ‘you are strong, you will beat this’. Shallow, superficial and ignorant, unless you are the oncologist who knows exactly what kind of cancer one has.
As for the myths, I fully agree on your views on positive thinking, it is to make the journey more bearable, not only for oneself but equally, if not important, to those closest to one.
I agree Andrew – you are strong is one of those cliched and patronising labels alongside brave that irks me too. What’s the alternative to being strong? Being weak? Laying down and dying without “fighting” for your life? We all just get on with things and do what we have to do to get/stay well.
Excellent post, Marie. I’m glad you are doing your part to dispel the myths surrounding cancer. Every time a celebrity is diagnosed with cancer, new myths emerge or old ones get perpetuated. Thank you for mentioning me; I am very touched and moved by your thoughtfulness. I can’t think of anything I did in the nine years since my last bout with cancer that caused it to recur. There’s no rhyme or reason. But there is always hope. Thanks for using your voice to influence others in a compassionate way, xox
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I just found this site/blog. Someday with the advance of genetics, we will find that cancers are greatly influenced by our genetics, we just haven’t found all the cancer enhancing genetic mutations. There are many more genetic mutations linked to breast cancer. Health care professionals need to a much better job listening to patients, examining them, taking a complete personal and family history; which often they do not. Chemotherapy and radiation
treatments do not kill cancer “stem” cells (baby cancer cells). This is one big reason why there can be recurrence(s) of cancer years later. We have made great strides in breast cancer treatment, but 5 year survival is good but not good enough when you would like to live 30+ years. At this time — the eventual cause of death of a woman who has had breast cancer, will be her breast cancer in 25% of diagnosed women. Post cancer treatment patients are “left holding the bag” with no aftercare, except exercise and eat well. This is not enough. There are
complementary treatments which need to be investigated. Changing a patient’s body chemistry by normalizing the body ph could make the environment “hostile” for growth of cancer stem cells.
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