'Brothers and Sisters': Can You Give Yourself Cancer?

Last night on Brothers and Sisters, Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) confronted Kitty (Calista Flockhart) about her new cancer-fighting plan: flaxseed oil, herbs, positive energy, and possibly, no chemo. Anyone familiar with chemo can understand Kitty's aversion to, as she calls it, "a bag full of poison dripping into your arm." As last night's episode made clear, the side effect of hair loss alone can be devastating.

But then Kitty explains why she's leaning toward homeopathic healing. "I am a Type A, driven personality," she says, implying that her behavior brought on her illness. "What is so threatening about admitting that there can in fact be a direct link between some personality types and cancer?" Sarah reacts like most people would: "It's just not true," she says. "Most cancers are genetic."

Right, I thought. Sarah's right. But then I got to thinking. What's the research on this? Have doctors found a link between personality type and cancer susceptibility? I did a quick Internet search to get the medical facts outside of make-believe TV land. (I'm willing to pull fashion tips from TV dramas, but I draw the line at getting my health advice from Brothers and Sisters.)

So, is there a link between temperament and cancer? Not surprisingly, the big, umbrella answer is: No one knows. Lots of doctors say the whole idea is baloney; others say yes, there's a link. But either way, Kitty was wrong to assume that her Type A personality doomed her. According to those who study body-mind connections, it's Type C people who are allegedly most at risk, not Type A's.

The author Michael Jawer explains the sorry state of Type C's in his book,The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion (Park Street Press, May 21, 2009). "In recent years, a cluster of personality characteristics has come to be identified as the Type C personality, someone who is at heightened risk for a slew of afflictions, from colds to asthma to cancer," writes Jawer. "In contrast with the Type A person (who angers easily and has difficulty keeping feelings under wraps) and the Type B person (who has a healthier balance of emotional expressiveness), the Type C person is a suppressor, a stoic, a denier of feelings. He or she has a calm, outwardly rational, and unemotional demeanor, but also a tendency to conform to the wishes of others, a lack of assertiveness, and an inclination toward feelings of helplessness or hopelessness."

Based on that description, the Brothers and Sisters character most likely to get cancer would be Kevin (Matthew Rhys), wouldn't it?

Over at WebMD, a Web site that offers a broader, general consensus of medical information, they're not inclined to blame anyone for bringing on their own cancer. Here's what they say about Kitty's disease: "Because most causes of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are not clearly understood, there are few ways to prevent its development." Later, they do advise that people "avoid exposure to chemicals such as lead, arsenic, pesticides, vinyl chloride, and asbestos." But I don't recall Kitty drinking arsenic or vinyl chloride last season. Maybe I missed an episode?

Do you think there could be a link between personality type and cancer? Chime in below!

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