Shocking: NBC series "Parenthood" nailed the experience of breast cancer

Jody Schoger, writing about a rare instance of a TV show getting the cancer experience right: "Most women diagnosed with breast cancer aren’t feeling sick to begin with.  They walk from the land of the well into the land of the bald, the nauseated, the medical record number, the breastless and the reconstructed. Then they are encouraged to stay positive about all this, as if failing to do so will somehow impede their survival. Think about that.  It makes no sense."


  1. When life becomes like sh#t you earn the right to feel like sh#t.

    To feel ok again the first thing is to realize and admit: your situation is sh#tty. 
    Denial only makes things worse, no matter what we are talking about.

      1. Probably because we spend so much time, and tons of dollars,  trying not to — and failing to meet your most important goals does make you a loser. 

        Which of course I don’t actually believe if you make me think consciously about it. I think that is part of the whole ‘just world’ thing (which, having a ‘lawful neutral’ personality, to the extent D&D alignments apply, I’m especially guilty of). We don’t want to believe that bad things can happen to people we care about, things completely out of their control. Genetic disorders and cancers unfortunately are very high on the “out of people’s control” list.

        1. If you die young, there’s a sort of vague feeling that it must have been your lifestyle choices, and thus there’s a bit of a trailer trash vibe about it.

  2. Then they are encouraged to stay positive about all this, as if failing to do so will somehow impede their survival.

    Stay positive, yes; that will enhance your life at least in quality if not in quantity.  But be positive about all this?  about having cancer?  That seems impossible to me.  The closest I ever got was “well, at least we caught it in time, so I didn’t die an ugly and painful death at a young age”.  Which didn’t seem particularly “positive” at the time to me.

  3. A friend’s mom had cancer a few years back and I particularly remember a conversation I had with her in which she said “After this cancer kills me…” and I interrupted her with something like “don’t be silly” or “don’t talk like that”.  She got a little annoyed and continued what she was saying with “Okay, well let’s pretend that the cancer kills me. If that were to happen…”  

    She died shortly after that.  Sorry to be a downer.  But anyway, that conversation really stuck in my head, and I’ve noticed that we do this a lot in our culture to people who are suffering from literally anything – from struggling to find a mate (“oh don’t worry, the right guy/girl will come along”) to infertility (“It’ll happen when it happens, god has a plan for you or something”) to cancer.

  4. The point of encouraging positive thinking is not that it increases the survival rate, it’s that it decreases the suicide rate.

      1.  First: A minor bit of logic in that the suicide rate amongst people who are NOT depressed is a wee bit lower (insert sarcasm as desired) than that of those who are.  If nothing else, the simple act of trying to be positive encourages some people to seek proper treatment.

        Second: That’s what was told to my family, by two different doctors, from two different hospitals, when my grandmother and my aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer.

        1. First: A minor bit of logic in that the suicide rate amongst people who are NOT depressed is a wee bit lower (insert sarcasm as desired) than that of those who are.

          Obviously people who are depressed are more prone to suicide than people who aren’t. The point of contention here is whether or not so-called “positive thinking” is really an effective way to combat depression.

          If someone feels like shit because life just dealt them a shitty situation, then telling that person to just buck up and stay positive might make them feel even worse. Would you advise someone who just lost a child to “stay positive” or “put on a happy face?” Of course not, because it’s completely natural to experience grief in such a situation. The first step in the healing process is acknowledging the injury in the first place. Even an injury too serious to ever recover from.

  5.  This is so true – it is such a strain to try to talk about something (negative) realistically when someone else is busy denying the very existence or possibility of the negative thing. I felt very lucky when I was being treated for cancer to have a friend I could call and say “I don’t want to die” whose response was “I don’t want you to die either” (and not “You’re not going to die”). The truth gives strength, even when you don’t like it.

  6. I have never understood how one is supposed to force oneself to think positive; I mean, don’t you know inside your own brain when you’re trying to bullshit yourself? Now, a wee bit ‘o herbal assistance on the other hand…

  7. There’s a fine line between getting stuck in the negative aspects of cancer – and cancer treatment – and being honest about the reality.  When someone feels silenced, as tho he or she can’t say how awful, or scary, or crummy – going through treatment is then that’s society’s sterotype of the “happy go lucky survivor” meme speaking.  I know a lot of incredible cancer survivors who were both optimistic about life but not particularly happy about their cancer.  

    Thanks to all of you for your comments.  I appreciate it.
    — Jody

  8. PBS ran a fantastic documentary a few years ago on this, “The Truth About Cancer” — from the producer ( ):

    The over-riding message of the program—the most important “truth”—is that while it is an intrinsic part of American culture to think that if you fight hard enough, throw enough resources at something and have a positive enough attitude that you can control your destiny, surviving cancer is all about the biology of the cancer cells—and whether they are susceptible to state-of-the-art treatment. Sometimes you can play by all the rules and just have bad biological luck.

    Q: Does your truth about cancer differ from what others may think is the truth about cancer?
    A: Yes, there is a tragic amount of emphasis on “just having a positive attitude” and “just fighting harder” when it comes to cancer stories. This puts a ridiculous amount of pressure on cancer patients who simply have aggressive cancers—and for which little can be done! If this program can change anything, I would like it to change the silly notion that you can survive an aggressive cancer if you “just have a positive attitude.”

    1. I survived cancer because I kept insisting the doctors were wrong, which in fact they were.  It had nothing to do with my biology and genes, really, just pure cussedness.

      It wasn’t a positive attitude, but it sure was an attitude!

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