Barbara Ehrenreich has a new book called “Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America And The World.” The book was triggered by her experience with breast cancer, and an excerpt called “Smile! You’ve Got Cancer” appeared in The Guardian on January 2.
Ehrenreich is an amazing writer and she brings up a lot of good points, such as how breast cancer has become a cottage industry. Beyond that, she discusses how the power of positive thinking has become ideology in some breast cancer circles. Some women viewed her anger as “treasonous,” which I find alarming. No one has the right to tell you how you should feel when you have breast cancer. It’s kind of like saying you should be six feet tall or have brown eyes. We’re all wired differently and there’s no right or wrong way to do this.
I have to admit, I’m one of those women who feels like cancer gave me more than it took away. Doe that mean I was never scared or angry? Of course not, but on balance I’m grateful. It also doesn’t mean I handled it better than anyone else or that I think everyone is required to see the cancer glass as half full. I’m just sorry Ehrenreich had to go through so much criticism at a time when she surely didn’t need it. But the half-full glass is it prompted a highly intelligent book that is generating some much-needed discussion.
I was a mental health worker in a former life, working with people with chronic mental illnesses. One of my mentors said the trick is to be where they are, not where they’re supposed to be. Maybe that’s what we need to do for each other in Cancer World as well.