A message from the real world

It happened again. I should have known better than to expose myself to online messages that can only lead to disappointment and distress. Tip – when you decide to take a mental break, I advise that you take a break from the internet, too.

I follow the top hospitals on social media – MD Anderson, Mayo Clinic, MSK, among others. I like to know what’s going on when it comes to science and research, especially in relationship to breast cancer. As I was checking my Facebook page recently, a post from Mayo Clinic popped up. Reading the first sentence of this post felt like nails on chalkboard. The statement came from someone at Mayo. Based on the quote, at first I thought maybe he was a motivational speaker. But to my surprise I found out he was an oncologist.


So, now we know: Attitude CREATES reality.

Stop wagging your finger at me, Dr. Creagan!

I know hospitals like to put out “inspirational messages” for their patients in order to encourage them, but I found those first three words so simplistic and perhaps even damaging that I could not get past them. I wonder, how is a stage 4 or terminal patient supposed to react when being told that changing their “attitude” will change their “reality”?

Language matters, and medical professionals should be careful not to use words that sound misleading. Dr. Creagan’s statement is inaccurate and scientifically untrue. Attitude does NOT create reality. And if he really believes that, why did he choose to go into oncology? Please help me out here. Am I over-reacting? Perhaps my level of tolerance for the “positive thinking” approach has reached its lowest level. I am tired of these types of messages that only make patients feel more isolated. Patients don’t need that kind of pressure. What patients need is for their medical team to be truthful and supportive in addition to also saving their lives. Patients also need to be heard.

A cancer diagnosis is a devastation, and patients should be allowed to see it that way. It isn’t always an opportunity for self-improvement or whatever else Dr. Creagan thinks the cancer experience should inspire.

People look to respected medical organizations such as Mayo Clinic for sound, reality-based information. “Attitude creates reality” sounds like something from fantasyland. So, what I would say to Mayo is, you can either choose to contribute to the level of ignorance our society lives in or you can educate with facts, the choice is up to you. Just please don’t mislead people.

About thesmallc

I'm Rebeca. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. But there's more to my story: I am an animal lover. I love to cook. I have a wonderful fiancé who doesn't mind walking my rocky path with me. We currently live in New York. ---------------------------------------- “Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
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30 Responses to A message from the real world

    • thesmallc says:

      Thank you for understanding. I hope you’re doing well. xo

      • I am good thanks Rebeca. How are you doing otherwise? It has been sometime that we have chatted. I hope (despite everything going on in your mind and heart) that you enjoy the summer. It has had a very uplifting effect on me and I try to immerse myself in this feeling before it becomes dark, gray, and cold again. As per your post, I fully understood your frustration and I thought “what a b.s.”. this is not the way to motivate or encourage someone. I too have a problem with health care system/governments/people trying to leave every responsibility about our wellbeing/health on us. Some things just cannot be in our power! as you said if he believes in what he said, why did he become an oncologist???? I hope they got your message. hugs and enjoy the great weather! 🙂 🙂

      • thesmallc says:

        I have visited your blog a few times but could not comment. I have an old computer at home and it needs some upgrading. It’s time to invest on something new. I love the summer and it always lifts my spirit. As you know, I dislike winter and the long dark days. And you’re correct about us having no control over most things, really. You enjoy your summer. And I am hoping to catch up on your blog soon. xo

  1. Jennifer says:

    Amen! It really irritates me when people act like having a positive attitude is some magical cure. And if you can’t muster a positive attitude, do you deserve to die? It’s bullshit.

  2. scottx5 says:

    That’s just mindless junk and it might help to write to Dr Creagan and tell him what you think. Yes, some people appear to be more resilient than others. But what if you are not? What does the doctor do with people who don’t recover to his standards?
    There’s a bunch of writers who speak to this poster mentality as something that’s damaging and to not be accepted either from ourselves and especially not from others. I’ll see about making a list of those writers. Most important, it isn’t authentic or “helpful” to present people with slogans that you yourself are unwilling to practice with them.
    Most of my doctors will not go where I HAVE to go when my anxiety catches me anyway. They don’t have time and as their technical skills go higher the institution needs them as mechanics, not as humans.
    I’m reading a book called “The Other Side of Sadness-what the new science of bereavement tells us about life after loss.” by George A. Bonanno. I’ve come to the conclusion the biggest factor in my particular mess has been loss of identity. Will write about it sometime when I know what I mean. The idea of grief came from reading “Being With Dying” and then a very old friend lost her husband suddenly and needed support. Having things missing from our lives creates disorientation and can make us helpless. What’s missing may not be obvious to others, but I don’t think that excuses the doctor above from spouting phony “support slogans.” Who wants his opinion anyway?
    Have fun in Canada with the cheap dollar. Are you still being driven crazy at work?

    • thesmallc says:

      Hi Scott, I am sorry about the loss of your friend’s husband.
      I have thought of reaching out to Mayo Clinic directly. I’ll let you know if I do. I’d be curious to know what their response will be. I feel bad for patients whose feelings are dismissed but I am sure this is common. Sometimes the patient’s only support comes from their doctor. To answer your question about what doctors do if patients don’t recover to their standards, they probably send the patient to another doctor to deal with it (like a phycologist or an acupuncturist). I’ve been lucky that I have been able to switch doctors whenever I feel ignored. The book you’re reading sounds interesting. I might check it out. I am enjoying Montreal a lot. They had their mural festival last week. Work is still stressful. They have re-staffed our dept. (5 people had left) but the workload is still too much to handle for everyone. I am doing what I can but I also need to look out for my health. Thank you for asking and for stopping by. I look forward to reading your post about loss of identity. I have been working on the same topic for weeks now, and like you said, it’s hard to put it into context. If I recall correctly, you guys were in the process of moving. I hope the re-adjustment is going smoothly.

  3. Iridacea says:

    I think it really boils down to the toxicity of “should” based messages. Sometimes I find that the emphasis on how the individual can change their situation in regards to cancer is blown way way out of proportion. It is a set up for shame. I have a similar response to yours whenever I read about how eating X will prevent cancer. I got breast cancer at 43 after a life spent eating an organic vegetarian diet and exercising regularly – while I don’t regret how I eat I do believe that the elephant in the room is that environmental toxicity and societal disfunction are way bigger contributors to cancer than an individuals habits or attitude. Figuring out how to negotiate through the emotions and loss of cancer is a big enough challenge without pressure to get on with celebrating the “opportunities” of having had life hijacked, and without giving us time to grieve what has been lost. While I spend a lot of energy on reframing my situation, it is usually hard work and not a sound bite gloss over of reality. Attaining moments of joy and gratitude feels less like a “choice” and more like the result of having a lot of support, and the grace of the gods. I say F-off oncology man.
    xo iris

    • thesmallc says:

      I agree it is a set up for shame. And this is def. parallel to the diet interrogation. Trying to put the pieces together after a traumatizing event such as cancer can take a lifetime. It’s not like we’re fully finished with it. The never-ending follow up apps and all the losses are reminders that we are not quite done. Like Scott mentioned above, one of the biggest losses is the loss of identity which is one of the reasons why it is so challenging to navigate survivorship. I feel this has been one of my biggest losses, in addition to having no sense of innocence anymore. I find it condescending for anyone to suggest we had better take cancer as an opportunity for self improvement. And I certainly would not expect this from an educated medical professional from one of the top hospitals in the world. It is disappointing and sad. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, friend.

  4. helensamia says:

    My attitude did not cause my reality… radiation caused my reality which is that I am a paraplegic after pelvic radiation for uterine cancer!!! This doctor my one day have to look at his own reality and think if his attitude may have made things different… like you I hate all this positive stuff that is supposed to make things better!!!

    • thesmallc says:

      I am sorry you’re dealing with the collateral damage these treatments leave us with. I often wonder how these people would react if they were to face a traumatic event such as a cancer diagnosis. Similar to those who suggest chemo is poison and we should never consider taking it. What would they do? I hope each day is a little easier for you.

  5. nancyspoint says:

    Hi Rebecca,
    I’m pretty sure you know how I feel about this. I find that “inspirational” message from the doctor to be potentially hurtful and even harmful. Attitude does not create reality. Sure, a person’s attitude is important, no matter what it is, but it does not determine reality. And what if a person isn’t up to that “choice”? This reminds me of that billboard post I wrote a couple years ago. I was so offended by that billboard. It’s disturbing enough when the general public says this sort of stuff over and over, but when it’s a major player in healthcare, t’s really unacceptable, as far as I’m concerned. Again, this is well-intentioned messaging, but for some it is anything but inspirational; it’s the opposite. Thanks for the post.

  6. Jamie says:

    Totally agree! I am finding it harder to follow pages on FB that do daily positive thoughts, Tiny Buddha being one. I used to have the luxury of those being a helpful pause in my life and if I wasn’t touched by the quote I move on. After the diagnosis not so much. I am realistic type with a good attitude. Enough of a realistist to know that I know attitude isn’t everything when it comes down to this.

    • thesmallc says:

      Jamie, I appreciate some positive/encouraging words from time to time but when they become harmful and misleading, I have an issue with them. If attitude can create reality, the world would be a different place. I wish having a “positive attitude” was the solution for everything.

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  8. In my mind, these cutesy self-motivational sayings work well for people with good lives who just don’t know it. I particularly take issue with the word “attitude” which smacks of: You have a bad one. I love Nancy’s comment about these thoughts not determining reality and not being up to that choice. Oh, Rebecca, like you, I loathe this stuff. xoxo

    • scottx5 says:

      Just noticed a book titled “Forgiveness is a Choice” and I think the author’s point is that WE take control of a situation as best we can. And that might include permitting ourselves to be hurt or even to (in someone else’s opinion) unrealistically “dwelling” on the negative. Ultimately, we can’t lie to ourselves or burn up energy pretending to be normal again.
      I think a while back Nancy talked about these advisory declarations as off the mark or maybe even intrusive? And yes, even well meaning sometimes, but from doctors, I don’t think they work. I know some conversations in my head are habitual or self-defeating and my world could be far easier if I silenced them?
      Could be what the doctor is saying in a clumsy way is our lives can be enriched by adversity but that is NOT something that can be prescribed by Mr-Know-It-All in a poster.

      • thesmallc says:

        Scott, you find good reads. I would have to agree that we treat our situations as best as we can. I find it to be very important to allow ourselves to experience all the different emotions each situation inspires. Suppressing our feelings isn’t a healthy approach at all. In fact, this is only helpful to the people who are actually suggesting we do that. At the same time, I have a fear to sink deep into a dark hole and stay there for too long. I keep my head above water for now but I control the pace.

    • thesmallc says:

      Eileen, your words are pretty accurate. That’s exactly how I take the message, as a suggestion to have a better attitude because my current one sucks. So judgmental and condescending for anyone to suggest that. I think it’s important to respond to these types of messages and to encourage discussions.

  9. scottx5 says:

    Rebecca, just had this image of our favorite Mayo clinician tweeting about reality late into the night and how disappointing it must be that we would challenge him. Reflecting on this unexpected event though might teach him something about how it feels to have the reality you thought you HAD collapse into a confidence-breaking sudden reminder of how fragile this life is.
    To me, it seems for all of us here, a sign of the strength of our lives that each of us has figured something out–something imperfect maybe, but ours to use. Could we do better? Yes, probably.

    Have to think about the fear of sinking, those things seen from the corner of our eyes, and how not to get used to them–to fight them. For the moment I’m not settled on this but do know that it won’t leave by some comforting magic spell poster saying. Guess we all have things we need to do to clear the toxins as each of our disasters happened on us while in our own and different frames of mind. Maybe the posters bother us because they assume we all share the exact same feelings and are restored by the same verbal potions?

  10. bethgainer says:

    Bravo for your well-done post. This oncologist is full of sh–. It sounds like he’s blaming the victim, something I am so sick of. How dare he insinuate that patients’ attitude affect their outcomes? My oncologist, on the other hand, is much more realistic: When I told him during one appointment that I was afraid of getting cancer again, he said it humanly: “After all that you’ve been through? It’s no wonder you’re scared.”

    • thesmallc says:

      Beth, I am sadder the guy comes from one of the top hospitals in the world. And it’s not like he’s uneducated. He has been exposed to the facts. He knows the reality of living with this disease, not to mention his job requires him to be able to face the truth and be supportive. I just don’t understand. I am glad your oncologist is a realist and shows empathy. xo

  11. Andrea says:

    I took offense from this too but not for the same reason. While I don’t think that Dr. Creagan is saying that if you have a positive attitude you won’t have cancer… but what I do think (s)he’s saying is that people with cancer should look at setbacks with a positive attitude and if they do, the setback will be a positive experience. Oh really?!! This leads me to wonder how Dr. Creagan treats his/her patients who have recurrences or ill-effects from treatment or whatever. Does (s)he treat these “setbacks” with a smile and an “Oh well, this advancement of your disease is just another opportunity to try another clinical trial!”?!! Let it suffice to say that if Dr. Creagan was my physician I would be switching doctors pronto. 😦

    • thesmallc says:

      Hi Andrea, yes, his message is very dismissive. I am not sure he is the type to acknowledge a patient’s reality. Unfortunately, his message also supports those who think “it’s all in the mind,” and it almost suggests that patients bring bad circumstances upon themselves. I am sure many of us would be switching doctors if that was the type of response we got. Too bad he’s at Mayo. Stay well and thank you for visiting. xo

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