When Senator John McCain revealed that he has brain cancer, well-wishers including President Obama and Vice President Pence, with the best of intentions, tweeted encouraging thoughts about McCain's strength and fighting spirit. Steven Petrow writes in the Washington Post that this inadvertently makes the patient feel responsible for the disease and the outcome.
Warrior or people-pleaser, these character-driven approaches suggest that you are responsible for your outcome. Both are just wrong.
“There’s been pushback against the idea that this warrior mentality is necessary for a successful outcome,” Rohan Ramakrishna, a neurosurgeon at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York who specializes in brain tumors, told me in a phone interview.
Putting it bluntly, Ramakrishna said, “Your response to treatment is a biological one, not a psychological one.”
People use warrior metaphors with good intentions, Ramakrishna explained, but the unfortunate flip side is the implication that it’s your own fault if the cancer comes back, or if you die. Those who triumph over more-curable diseases, such as cancers that have effective treatments, aren’t tougher than those facing glioblastoma — it’s just that the odds are more in their favor.