Destroy The Myths
There are many misconceptions concerning a cancer diagnosis that need
to be destroyed. Myths are usually a combination of half-truths, old
wives' tales, bits and pieces of information that we have stored away in
our minds and accepted as true. Psychologists call this assortment of
information our frame of reference. Before I deal with the myths, I'd like
to show how myths and misinformation work in everyday life.
Suppose you had a trusted friend who showed up at your workplace and
announced to you with great emotion that your house just burned down. Icy
fear would grip your heart and you would jump to action. You would also
respond quickly, I suspect, with many questions. "Is my family okay? Is
there anyone else in the house? Is my insurance paid up?" But, what if
this announcement was part of a sick joke, or a case of a mistaken house
on your friend's part? Your reaction at the time you heard this terrible
news, if you did not know it was a joke or a mistake, would be real!
You see, we act or react in life based upon what we believe to be true,
regardless of whether what we believe is actually true or not. Popular
misconceptions often go unchecked because they are constantly repeated and
rarely checked for accuracy. Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are myths,
and believing in Santa or the Easter Bunny as a child is relatively
harmless; however, some of the myths surrounding cancer need to be totally
Myth Number One: Cancer is a Death
You can't think of many things one human being could say to another
that has the immediate and fear- inducing impact of your doctor telling
you, "You have cancer." Most of the fear and depression that come from
getting this pronouncement are because of the general, yet mistaken,
belief that cancer is automatically fatal.
This is a myth. It is not only not true, but the facts reveal a totally
different reality. In the last twenty years especially, the rate of
survival from almost every type of cancer has improved. For some types of
cancer, the survival rate is ninety percent or higher. And for all cancers
combined, the overall survival rate is approaching sixty percent.
According to the Mayo Clinic Health Letter (February 1992), the survival
rates have been steadily increasing with every decade.
As you consider these facts in contrast to the myth that cancer is a
death sentence, keep in mind that just a decade ago cancer treatment was
basically an either/or technique, because physicians were limited to
either surgery or nonsurgical treatment in the form of radiation or
chemotherapy. Today, doctors tailor treatment for each person with cancer
and they often use a combination of treatment methods. The result is the
continuing improvement in survival rates.
One more time: it is a myth that cancer is a death sentence. Erase that
false tape from your mind. Start letting your mind absorb the correct
information that most people recover from most types of cancer, and the
results are getting better every year.
Myth Number Two: Time Heals All Wounds
Again, this popular myth is simply not grounded in reality. Time is a
measurement of days and years. Time is a device we use like a yardstick or
ruler or odometer to give us a relative comparison of the stuff that Ben
Franklin said life itself is made of. But your fight against cancer, while
it may be measured from start to finish in days or months, is neither
constrained nor helped by time. The point in destroying this myth, that
time itself is a healer, is to get your eyes off the clock and onto the
positive things you can be doing, regardless of how much time passes until
you achieve the positive outcome you are looking for.
The point to keep in mind is that your goal is to cooperate with your
doctor in a treatment program that will get the best possible result for
you, regardless of time.
Myth Number Three: The Law of Averages Will Catch
Up With You
Mark Twain said, There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and
statistics." Statistics, including averages, are valuable for many
purposes in many areas of life. With statistics we can spot trends,
measure tendencies and make judgments. These are functions that are often
impossible to perform on a case-by-case basis. For instance, the function
of quality control in most factories is made possible by checking only a
few items out of each batch or shipment. This is a case where the law of
averages, properly applied, works amazingly well. If you pick the proper
random sample, you don't have to test every single unit the factory turns
The whole field of financial analysis is based on another proper use of
statistics. Quarterly and annual reports are based on compiled data that
accountants and executives can review to determine where a company or an
industry is headed in terms of profits, utilization of resources and
In the field of medicine, statistics can be put to good use on a
long-term basis to chart the effectiveness of various courses of
treatment, drug therapies and demographic variations of patient responses
to various types of disease.
But statistics, and especially the law of averages, have no place in
helping you formulate your own attitude and your own goals for recovering
from the particular type of cancer with which you have been diagnosed.
This is simply a misapplication of the use of statistics. When you look at
statistics to determine your own individual chances of recovery from
cancer, you are falling prey to a myth. This is because all statistics,
business, scientific, medical or sports, have one thing in common: they
are great for measuring events and summarizing results after they happen.
But they are not infallible guides for predicting future events in sports
or business, and certainly not in predicting yours or anyone else's
chances of recovery from cancer.
Your recovery from cancer has far more to do with the kind of treatment
you receive, the timing of your diagnosis, your general state of physical
fitness and your attitude, than any of the statistics you might come
across for cancer survival. I am absolutely convinced that the reason most
children with cancer respond so well is that they have no myths to
destroy. They don't have to fight the additional battle with their own
worry and fear that comes from reading statistics and automatically seeing
themselves on the wrong side of the scale.
Let me give you another perspective that will help you see how to deal
with this pervasive and dangerous misuse of statistics. In professional
sports, every player is constantly rated by his or her performance on the
field or the court. When a baseball player with a batting average of .300
steps up to the plate, all we know is that he has been successful in
getting hits three out of ten times at bat, so far this year. But his
batting average doesn't come anywhere near telling us whether he is going
to hit the ball this time at bat! If it did, baseball and most other
sports would be too boring to watch!
This same principle is true in all sports. Regardless of the
statistics, you can't accurately predict present behavior not for an
individual or a team. And you are in the same position as an athlete.
Regardless of the statistics you may have seen about the type of cancer
you have, you don't know how your result will later be tabulated.
So destroy the myth that your fate is somehow predetermined by the law
of averages. Not only is this is a myth, but by taking a positive and
optimistic view, you are more likely to create the mental and emotional
state within yourself that aids the healing process. What I have just said
is true at any stage of your treatment, but especially when you have just
gotten your diagnosis. If you have any lingering doubts concerning this
myth of statistics, just turn on your television to any sports event or
game and listen for a few minutes. You are in the same situation as the
batter stepping up to the plate: the statistics have no control over the
opportunity for success now.