Why Being a Cheerleader for Cancer Survivors May Not Be Helpful.

Stan Goldberg, PhD

A few days ago I discussed the tricky balance between accepting the realities of cancer vs. the need for hope with Joni Aldrich on The Cancer Support Network. As someone who has lived with cancer for the past twelve years, it wasn’t academic. Rather, it’s a constant, annoying companion.

Just as with everyone else, I also have an inherent desire to wish away the difficult things in life—especially the management of my prostate cancer. In conversations with other people coping with cancer I often hear “What if they didn’t get it all?” Folks say it whose cancer is described by the medical community either as “in remission” or “cured.” I hear it from people who just completed their treatment protocol and those who have lived with cancer for twenty years.

As a friend or family member of someone living with cancer, you try to be supportive. Those of us living with cancer often hear things such as “Let’s hope for the best,” or “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.” We know you say them with the best on intensions and a compassionate heart. We want to believe it, even when logic and facts say our cancer is a formidable opponent.

There is an important place for hope in coping with cancer. I do believe that the mind can affect the body and vice versa. But there are times when being a cheerleader isn’t helpful.

Support doesn’t always have to be in the form of hope. Often, the most meaningful action can be the quiet acceptance of what we are going through. One client said to me that the most positive event in her cancer journey was her husband just holding her hand after a debilitating chemotherapy treatment.

Living with cancer doesn’t require a sugar coating. The playwright Jean Anouilh said, “I like reality. It tastes like bread.” I don’t like cancer, but for me, being realistic about how to cope does taste like a great whole-wheat country loaf.

Preventing Senior Moments, by Stan Goldberg

Offers practical and achievable prevention strategies for senior moments.


  1. Kate Loving Shenk

    Perhaps doctors become cheerleaders for treatment (Chemo and Radiation) to not only mask their own fear of death, but to hurry a patient through because to sit down and honestly discuss the truth takes too much time.

    • Stan Goldberg

      That’s definitely a possibility.But I think even if they had more time, their fear of death would interfere with a patient’s need to know the prognosis.

  2. Michelle Harrigan

    I completely agree that being a cheerleader is not often the best perspective. I understand that people have a hard time with the concept of death. They may not be ready for it and do not want to confront it. If a cancer diagnosis includes a guaranteed journey to the end-of-life, how about providing the best environment for that person to prepare for their death instead of giving them false hope that their chemotherapy is going to make a difference. I understand fear can overwhelm someone. My own fear surrounding my mother’s death was overwhelming. However, I knew that I had to prepare for her to pass. She did after 9 months of chemo. The doctors being very supportive, “you can do this, you can beat this, atta girl”. She had stage 4 lung and brain cancer. She wasn’t going survive this. It did nothing for my mother and it damaged me. Trust me when I say that its easier to prepare for the certain than it is not to face the reality. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Stan Goldberg

      I agree completely Michelle. What happens often is that by being overly optimistic people don’t prepare for the inevitable.


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