I have found since my journey began in April 2016, that the women, I’ve met, who are truly free spirits had an easier time dealing with the changes breast cancer forced upon us.
A diagnosis of breast cancer, along with its treatment, can challenge patients to deal with a variety of stressors in our day to day lives. Although there is an over abundance of studies assessing women’s quality of life and adjustment to cancer, they know very little about personality and interpersonal factors predict the way in which women cope with cancer. Are there specific personality traits that predispose women to cope more effectively with a cancer diagnosis and treatment? What influence does a woman’s relationship with her primary support person or supportive network have on coping? These are important questions to answer in order to develop and deliver psychosocial services that may effectively help cancer patients.
When a person is told they have cancer, they might find themselves wondering:
Did I bring the cancer on myself?
Will my emotional state affect my treatment?
Can I mentally encourage my body into helping fight the cancer?
Would relaxation, exercising, keeping a “positive attitude” it diet change help cure my cancer?
I read that personality traits not only affect patients’ overall quality of life but also can affect how patients experience symptoms related to the treatment and how they cope with these symptoms. Breast cancer patients who are more neurotic, less agreeable, or more introverted report having more fatigue and are ill throughout most of their treatment. Patients who are low on anxiety levels and high on extraversion (when someone always likes to be around people and enjoys being the center of attention) and conscientiousness (personality trait of being careful, or diligent) are more likely to participate in exercise and have more energy during their treatments. While there is strong evidence that personality affects women’s overall adjustment to breast cancer, less is known about how personality influences their coping efforts, that is, how they manage the stress associated with the diagnosis and treatment. Unless doctors fully understand individual differences in approaching the stress of a serious illness, their efforts to assist patients in coping will be compromised.
An important part of coping with a cancer diagnosis is recognizing your emotions and feelings. Treatment dealing with our emotions and relationships (sometimes called psychosocial interventions) can help us with feeling more upbeat and having a better quality of life. Things like group support, individual therapy, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques can be used to help reduce distress and cope with the emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis. But there’s no evidence to support the idea that these interventions can reduce the risk of cancer, keep cancer from coming back, or help the person with cancer live longer.
For many years (back before any of us got cancer) there had been those who were convinced that people with certain personality types were more likely to get cancer. The common thought was that neurotic people and introverts were at a higher risk of cancer. Along with that, some believed that your personality affected the outcome of cancer – the likelihood that a person with cancer might die.
People with cancer and their families may feel guilty about their emotional responses to the illness. They may feel pressure to keep a “good attitude” at all times, which is unrealistic. This feeling of pressure can come from within themselves, from other people, or both. Sadness, depression, guilt, fear, and anxiety are all normal parts of grieving and learning to cope with major life changes. Trying to ignore these feelings or not talking with others about them can make the person with cancer feel lonely. It can also make the emotional pain worse. And some people feel guilty or blame themselves when they can’t “stay positive,” which only adds to their emotional burden.
Along these same lines, many people want to believe that the power of the mind can control serious diseases. This is a comforting belief that can make a person feel safer from the risk of serious illness. If it were true, you could use your mind to stop the cancer from growing. But the down side of such beliefs is that when people with cancer don’t do well, they may blame themselves
In the last few decades, research has further shown that giving cancer patients information in a support group setting helps reduce tension, anxiety, and tiredness (fatigue), and may lower the risk of depression.
It seems clear that support groups can affect quality of life, but the available scientific evidence does not support the idea that support groups or other forms of mental health therapy can help people with cancer live longer.
Cancer affects your body, but it affects your emotions and feelings, too. Mental health treatment that claims to alter tumor growth is not recommended as the only form of cancer treatment, nor should it be sought just because someone thinks it might prolong life. But mental health care and emotional support can help patients and their loved ones better manage cancer and its treatment. Talk to the members of your cancer care team about things you can do to help yourself through a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Sometimes it also helps to talk to other survivors who are going through the same things you are facing.
Your attitudes, emotions, and moods can change from day to day, and even from hour to hour. You may feel good one day and terrible the next. Know that this is normal and that, with time, most people are able to adjust to a cancer diagnosis and move forward with their lives. Some may need extra help from a support group or a mental health professional to learn to cope better. Find the strength and support you need to feel the best you can and have the best possible quality of life.
Three studies found breast cancer patients have shorter lives if they are low on the extrovert scale. Those with non-Hodgkin lymphoma have a reduced life expectancy if they tend to be rigid about following social rules and customs. Women deemed to be highly neurotic don’t survive as long, according to one study that looked at all types of cancer. However, five other studies could not find any relationship at all between cancer and personality. Personality traits are characterized in these studies is rather simplistic, so it’s not surprising that no firm conclusions have come out of them.
They found the cancer survivors possessed a certain quality which the authors call congruence, “a way to be deeply true to themselves.” They had “a stronger congruence among emotions, cognitions and behavior.”
In Cancer, the turning point is when you realize, “You are not responsible for becoming ill, and you are not responsible for your recovery. What you are responsible for once you are ill is to do your best to get better. This means …..changing your life so that your inner healing abilities will be stimulated to the highest level possible.”
“A person who is singing their own song in life, creating it in ways that fit their personality structure, may well stimulate the body’s self-healing abilities.” You have to live your life, not somebody else’s. You have to live as the person you are. We may respond to life events in different ways according to our particular personality profile, but the response has to come from our true selves.
There is no fixed set of behaviors leading to remarkable recovery” but certain psycho-spiritual factors came out as being the most important to cancer survivors. I found a list in another article, they are listed as:
Belief in a positive outcome 75%
Fighting spirit 71%
Acceptance of the disease 71%
Seeing cancer as a challenge 71%
Taking responsibility for the disease and its outcome 68%
Renewed desire/will to live/commitment to life 64%
Positive emotions 64%
New sense of purpose 61%
Changes in habits/behavior 61%
Sense of control 59%
Lifestyle changes 59%
As one survivor put it, her healing came about because she was “becoming true.”
It‘s clear that we can cannot typecast personality. Beyond simplistic ideas that conventionally ‘negative’ traits can make us ill and ‘positive’ traits heal us, every ‘type’ of person can find his or her own unique direction to recovery.