In the book, Cancer as a Turning Point, research psychologist Lawrence LeShan describes how he pioneered the application of psychotherapy to working with advanced metastatic cancer patients, with the goal of improving longevity. In his lengthy career he consistently observed that those who went into remission were those who had learned to sing their own song in life.
Nice, Polite Patients Die Sooner
Cancer patients with the longest survival times are those who authentically express their true feelings of anger, fear, pain, and distress. Those with the shortest survival times are the unassertive ones—the ones, incidentally, whom nurses and doctors like the most. The nice, so-called “compliant” patients are usually labeled by medical staff as “well adjusted,” when in fact they have a problem expressing their authentic emotions and are too unassertive to request what they need or to say “no” to what they don’t want, and this “nice patient” mentality results in worse health outcomes. Considerable research reveals that cancer patients, as well as people with other illnesses, who are unable to identify and express their authentic emotions have higher rates of morbidity and mortality. Cancer patients who respond to their diagnosis stoically, or who respond with fatalistic hopelessness and helplessness, have the shortest survival times. These stoic patients are generally completely out of touch with their authentic feelings; hence, when they do express themselves, it is not authentic. For example, venting or raging is a defense to cover up authentic, more vulnerable feelings. Expressing to others the fear or hurt feelings that often lie beneath the venting or other smoke screen leads to greater self-acceptance and environmental mastery. Being a nice, easy, docile patient is another form of smoke screen—serving to prevent the expression of anger or other feelings that the patient was brought up to believe were unacceptable to express or even to acknowledge.