Today, the Bend Bulletin newspaper (Bend, Oregon) reprinted the Prevention article. I didn't see the original article in January as I was in the midst of trying to stabilize my own health in living with metastatic breast cancer. However, I read the article this morning and I'm appalled.
In my opinion, when someone is a celebrity, they have a certain amount of responsibility to be knowledgeable about the topics their celebrity status platform gives them. I do believe Joan Lunden is learning what she can about breast cancer in general, but she steps into dangerous waters when she tries to give voice to metastatic breast cancer without being intimately involved in the metastatic community.
PREVENTION MAGAZINE: You often call yourself a "glass-half-full kind of girl." But certainly this diagnosis must have been an incredible challenge to maintaining that attitude. Was there a point where you asked, "Why me?"
JOAN LUNDEN: Never. It didn't even occur to me. I've been taken to task on social media for talking about how important it is to have a positive attitude. And it's usually people who have metastatic breast cancer, and they know they're going to die, and you know, "Positive attitude isn't going to cure us."
But a positive attitude will certainly make the time you're here on Earth more palatable and will certainly keep the fight in you to keep fighting to live until maybe we even find a better treatment for you. It will keep that fight stronger. There have been studies that show that patients who have a positive attitude and are optimistic have a better immune system, and they heal better, they recover better.
Seriously? Translated into plain English: "Smile!!!! Be positive!!!! You are dying but you need to remain positive about your life so that you can keep fighting until MAYBE we even find a better treatment for you."
My friend, Linda, died yesterday. My friend, Helen, is in her last days. Sunday is the first anniversary of Michele's death. I've lost 17 personal friends (real life, not online) in the last three years to metastatic cancer, most of which whom had metastatic breast cancer.
Paul Kalanithi, MD, wrote here: " After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely."
There is extreme value in appreciating each day that we have. However, there is something extremely dismissive for someone to tell a dying person to be positive because that will "keep the fight in you to keep fighting to live."
Additionally, Lunden goes on to say, "There have been studies that show that patients who have a positive attitude and are optimistic have a better immune system, and they heal better, they recover better."
Notice some key words there? " ... they heal better, they recover better."
Metastatic breast cancer patients do not heal, nor do they recover. They die.
Being positive does not expedite better treatments. Using your celebrity voice to exhort others to invest in meaningful research into metastatic disease is far more meaningful than exhorting dying patients to be positive about their lives, however short those lives may be.
(Oh, and by the way, there are studies that show that having a positive attitude in the face of cancer does absolutely nothing to increase survival chances.)