Ellen Langer

A friend’s brother, a physician, told him that if he ever became sick, “Don’t bleed.” What he meant was that illness is a time to “keep a stiff upper lip” or “whistle a happy tune,” choose your favorite metaphor.

I recently told a friend with cancer that, even if he has to walk at a snail’s pace to “Stand tall.” He has and as a result he doesn’t seem to be suffering as much. I have another suffering friend who I told early on that she can play it for sympathy or be heroic. Sympathy, however, wears thin very soon.

There’s ample research showing that friends and loved ones take the cues for how they treat sick friends and family from their own attitude to the diagnosis. The problem is that the patient then takes cues from them to assess the seriousness of her condition, oblivious to how she influenced the view. Often what then happens becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. She sees herself as sick, behaves accordingly, and as a result, may worsen her condition.

I believe that for as long as we can, we want to live each moment fully. When we do that, we actually may influence the disease process. Regardless, though, we influence those around us who influence us, which results in more life to our years