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The Philosophy of Hope

Posted by Manuela Boyle on 14 December 2022
The Philosophy of Hope

Hope can be a major tool of empowerment and an element for sustaining life and the will to live. We hope for better times. We hope for remission. We hope to prolong life by averting death through medical treatment and supportive care. Or, if disease progresses, we hope to control pain, side effects, and suffering.  We hope for treatments that can cure or palliate and make the disease stable.

The Oxford Dictionary defines hope as “to entertain expectations of something desired.” Hope embodies an emotional component beyond expectation that is an important part of human experience. Hope is a precious commodity that is often hard to define, but is very important to keep alive. It often gives a person a glimpse of the future and is supported by enduring fortitude, courage, and ingenuity, often in the face of adversity. Hope is synonymous with a positive will to live and affects a positive outcome, whatever that might be.

Hope can be a part of one’s upbringing from childhood. It can also be developed through life experiences, passed on from friends, from spiritual or religious philosophy, or from examples in life. A lot depends on development of one’s personality and how one has dealt with crises during life. The better one copes with crises, the better chance one has of being more hopeful. An interesting example is that of Viktor Frankl, a survivor of a German concentration camp during World War II. Facing death, he found that many of his fellow captives continued to maintain a reason and purpose for living. They often fared better than those who found the concentration camp experience nothing but dreadful and overwhelming.  They believed that hopelessness had a significant effect on the human response to illness. This lack of optimism in the form of hopelessness has been shown to predict poorer survival among breast cancer patients

No matter what stage one’s cancer is, setting short-term and long-term goals will help define and achieve life’s purposes.  Survivors are well advised to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.  They can live with hope for a cure, a remission, or stable cancer without suffering and enjoy high quality of life with family and friends for as long as possible.

Hope can be reduced by loss of empathy and compassion and by withdrawing oneself from reality, from family and friends, and from the medical support team. Patients may experience psychologically depressing or destructive medical or social processes if they feel that life is disappointing and unsatisfactory.  They may involve others in this destructive pattern that has grave psychological implications and indicates a process of utter despair.  So to feel embedded in a network of caring at a time of serious illness is deeply reassuring. The will to live is not the denial of death, but the intensification of a life experience, which comes with the realisation of how finite life truly is.

As health professionals believe that a combination of medical therapy, adoption of healthy lifestyles, medical prevention and supportive care offers the best chance to maintain a patient’s quality of life. Satisfaction of these diverse needs demonstrates the powerful connection between mind and body. Obtaining relief from pain, nausea, or fatigue, for example, restores a sense of calm. Sufficient sleep, appropriate exercise, and good nutrition are energising. Discussing one’s negative feelings candidly with others can diminish their effect. Learning to control blood pressure and heart rate through such means as biofeedback and self-hypnosis can foster a sense of personal power. Exploring one’s creative potential can lead to joy and transcendence.

Positive Thinking
When diagnosed with cancer, maintaining a positive attitude can be difficult. Individuals must confront many obstacles, including the side effects of the illness and treatment, as well as feelings of fear, anger, depression, and loneliness. All of this can impact even the most buoyant of personalities. One way to maintain a positive attitude is by setting reasonable, achievable goals. Another helpful hint is to put energy into activities that bring satisfaction. Doing one’s best to maintain a positive attitude helps to cope with illness.

For patients with cancer, the future is often unknown, and hope is what keeps them alive to endure treatments and social and personal adversities. Hope is supported by the positive attitudes of the medical team, but can also be very fragile.  Anything that demoralises a person can negate the feeling of hope, which can make a difference in accepting or denying the next set of treatments if failure occurs. The feeling of hope and will to live will vary daily depending on one’s current physical status, psychological outlook (depression or elation), and treatment success or failure. The hope is to be kept alive, to live, and to recover through a resilient attitude rather than a feeling of despair. Hope is often a shared feeling with one’s personal team of family and friends because the future is often nebulous.  Hope keeps one alive to fight for another day, a month, a year, and a return to better health. It affords another opportunity to respond to therapy and to live.

“Hope is the most beautiful of all the affections, and doth much to the prolongation of life, if it be not too often frustrated, but entertaineth fancy with an expectation of good.” Francis Bacon






Author:Manuela Boyle
Tags:NewsCancerBlogsStress Management for the Mind and for the BodyLIFE BEYOND CANCER


  • The Institute for Functional Medicine
  • Society for Integrative Oncology
  • Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia
  • Australian Traditional-Medicine Society
  • British Naturopathic Association