"Fighting Spirit When Battling Major Illness

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

A "fighting spirit" aids recovery. When grappling with a serious illness or recovering from a major surgery, maintain a fighting spirit. No one has to surrender to some "inevitable verdict" of an illness. Two people afflicted with an identical condition may have very different outcome. 

The data for spontaneous recovery from even serious illnesses is formidable. Those who keep their mantle on rather than throwing in the towel, get much more from life after illness or surgery. They manage to preserve their sense of control all the way.  

A careful study by Hans Eysenck confirms that such is the case in case of cancer patients.  Eysenck, one of the greatest psychologists and researchers of this century, has been extremely skeptical of the claims made by many therapists and mental health professionals. 

In the `60, he claimed that most people get better spontaneously with or without psychotherapy. This created quite a controversy at the time. Today, however, there are hundreds of studies that have shown that therapy is highly effective and produces rapid results. 

In reference to the study in question, Eysenck concludes that there is a significant difference between cancer patients who possess a fighting spirit and those who don't. Patients who maintain a "fighting spirit" during active treatment and after, do much better.

Cancer patients acknowledge that a fighting spirit is hard to maintain when you are subjected to invasive procedures such as, radiation and chemotherapy. It is a challenge to keep your heels dug in and stay on the fighting line when you feel nauseated, weak, and breathless. But some people do just that. Human spirit can bear these discomforts in vastly different ways. For some, it remains simply a "nuisance" while for the others it turns into a nightmare.

Human beings can "create" a totally new and different reality which has little if anything with reality as the majority of people would see it. In Stone Mountain Park, Georgia, an inscription on the statue of an unknown soldier points out to us that we human beings can both create our own reality and respond to it as we choose. The inscription says, "When there was darkness falling about them, these men could somehow act as if they were on the edge of dawn."

While one cancer patient sees the day of diagnosis as the beginning of one dark night that will
never have a dawn, the other sees it as a significant day all right but in a much different way, as the time of testing one's strength. 

"One day at a time," says a coper, and a die-hard believer says, "One more day? Am I getting one more day? Thank You, Dear Lord!" Some come to a conclusion that cancer is an "opportunity" to finally put their life in order, so they can live for the values that are as dear to them as the life itself There is no difference in the day we all get. Everybody gets the same day. The difference involves what we make of it before it's gone.

Cancer patients must watch themselves for the four negative tendencies summarized by Eysenck. After reviewing over forty studies on personality characteristics of cancer patients, he noted that when compared to others, cancer patients tend to do more of the following:

l. Suppress anger and anxiety.
2. Suppress appropriate assertiveness. 
3. Cope poorly with stressful situations
4. Feel hopeless, helpless, and depressed under stress.

Some people call the composite of these four characteristics as "Type C" personality or "cancer
personality." I don't believe that there is anything like a cancer personality. I believe that certain negative characteristics become more prominent as cancer develops. 

The four above-stated negative characteristics get more entrenched if one is coping poorly with cancer, thus forming a vicious cycle. These negative characteristics weaken or altogether destroy the fighting spirit. 

Unfortunately, more patients have these characteristics than not. Somehow people recover in spite of themselves. I dread to hear from a patient, "The fight in me is gone, doctor "  

Studies indicate that psychological treatment and support groups prolong the life of cancer patients. Individuals and families somehow are able to defeat the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Those on the verge of losing their fighting spirit one say turn around and snatch their fighting spirit back from their illness. 

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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