Bioethics Discussion Blog: Reacting to Bad News: Forget and Smile?

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Monday, January 31, 2005

Reacting to Bad News: Forget and Smile?

Christina Georgina Rossetti, one of the most important women poets writing in nineteenth-century England wrote:“Better by far you should forget and smile/Than that you should remember and be sad” But is being sad always something to avoid? Read this excerpt from a blogger’s current life experience with cancer.

Somehow we got this idea, and Christians are the absolute worst about this, that being sad or angry is a bad thing.
Whenever I post something to the effect that "Cancer is bumming me out today," I get a bunch of emails and comments to the effect of "Buck, up, little camper - God will provide! God loves you! Be happy! I'll pray that you stop being sad!"
Well, sad is an appropriate response to cancer sometimes. My doctors are all saying I have a great, healthy, positive attitude about my disease, but they are also aware that I have a potentially fatal illness that has spread far and rapidly and that sometimes I'll be less-than-joyous about that.
Sad is ok. Feeling the way you feel is ok, until it becomes destructive. I'd worry about me if I went around all day with a goofy grin and never looked at the negative consequences of cancer.
I say all that to say this: I'm sad right now.

I agree that a cancer patient, such as the blogger above, being sad is an emotion that can represent the patient’s realistic reappraisal of their life. Their goals, which they have set in the past, now must be reconsidered in view of the diagnosis and prognosis. The role of the physicians in treating their cancer patients who demonstrate sadness is to understand what the patient has concluded on reappraisal of their life and, if unrealistic from the known clinical facts, educate the patient about this. However, if realistic, allow the patient an opportunity to ventilate about the consequences of the diagnosis and express his or her feelings. Perhaps in this way the patient, with emotional support by the physician, can set and accept more limited goals, which will provide more comfort for the patient in their remaining life. In my view, prescribing “Forgetting and smiling” is an unreasonable and unwise approach to therapy. ..Maurice.





1 Comments:

At Thursday, February 16, 2006 7:30:00 AM, Anonymous Moof said...

Dr. Bernstein, I agree with you. It's also an unreasonable and unwise approach to life ... be it illness, loss of a loved one ... or just a person's daily walk.

Things are never completely perfect ... and people are ... people. They either acknowledge the everyday ups and downs, or they deny them. I believe that those who deny being sad: "God is in charge, and all's well with the world ... rejoice!" ... are asking for trouble. I also agree that Christians are worse for this sort of thing than perhaps any other group.

Few of us live so completely in the spiritual realm that the visceral aspects of life can be fully ignored, and I'm suspicious of anyone who claims they can be.

 

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