Book Review: Hope Rising; How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life

Recently, a dear friend and fellow MBC’er Andra Kalnins and her sister, Ilga Leimanis, began posting about their project entitled “Sister Hope.” I was intrigued and followed how they presented the culmination of their discussions and activities as they worked together to process Andra’s recurrent Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer diagnosis. As I did, I learned so much about both of them and knew their experiences and project deserved to be amplified. Check out this live webinar with as we discussed their experiences.

During the discussion, the concept of hope came up often and was truly the center of the conversation. One of the books (in addition to the book written by Ilga Leimanis, Sketching Perspective) that both sisters referenced was Hope Rising; How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life. As I often do, I made a note to go back and read it myself. And I’m so glad I did.

As I’ve mentioned before, the type of book styled as “self-help,” where the author claims to have all the answers if you just do x or y makes me crazy. In contrast, this book was rooted in studies and research and real world examples. Even better, the real world examples were across the spectrum of suffering/trauma, including foster care, illness, death, abuse, etc. It was quite clear from the beginning that not only were the authors truly experienced in what they were writing about, there was a genuine impact made by the concepts discussed.

From the preface/introduction …

Hope is not just an idea. Hope is not simply an emotion. It is far more than a feeling. It is not a wish or even an expectation. Hope is about goals, willpower, and pathways. A person with high hope has goals, the motivation to pursue them, and the determination to overcome obstacles and find pathways to achieve them.

I’ve written about hope before in the context of MBC and how elusive it can often seem. As with the conversation with my dear Emily Garnett and this book, the concept of hope as rooted not only in reality but also in people is key. Hope isn’t a fantasy, it is something that can be achieved and this book has a formula.

Rising hope doesn’t eliminate the impact of trauma, but it mitigates trauma.

This quote resonates with me so much. Many people living with MBC or really any kind of cancer work really hard at maintaining hope. This hopeful outlook can often lead outsiders to think that the struggle isn’t significant. Focusing on hope and working towards goals helps to provide and build hope, but it doesn’t erase why hope is needed to begin with. A reminder that is important, I think, to anyone who doesn’t live with trauma.

One concept that I did think about a lot is how often we in the MBC community experience trauma over and over. Every time we have a scan, every time there is a strange malady, every time we walk into the infusion center or the doctor’s office, every time we learn of another’s diagnosis, every time we lose a friend to MBC, smells, tastes, constant medication … the trauma happens over and over and over. Holding onto hope when there are these ongoing issues and setbacks, well, that’s probably fodder for another book.Hope is real. Hope is the bridge between the impossible and the possible. We need many more bridge builders in this country.

For those of you who are more visual, here’s a picture of what the book is talking about …

Goals are where you are going, pathway is how you get there and agency is the motivation that keeps you on the path to the goal. Big goals are dreams.

You are optimistic if you think the future will be better than the past. You are hopeful if you believe the future will be better than the past and you believe you have a role in making it so.

I was glad that the authors addressed the difference between optimism and hope. There are those people who are naturally and often blindly optimistic. The distinction between hope and optimism are the legs, the specifics and the call to action. Optimism by itself doesn’t push/pull towards action.

They found higher hope in children through five pathways: 1) Maintaining their identity by participating in activities and relationships outside of diagnosis and treatment; 2) Realizing community through informal connections with others living with the disease; 3) Claiming power by taking an active role in setting goals, self-advocating, and monitoring their condition; 4) Connecting to spirituality through prayer and other contemplative practices; and 5) Developing wisdom and then finding ways to “give back” to others.

As a pragmatic/logical person, I like lists. The list above was taken from a study in children with terminal cancer. As I was reading through the specifics, I realized that each are elements that I’ve discovered and applied in my own life without truly understanding why or the benefits. It’s always good to find studies that show the empirical value of something you’ve stumbled into.

… there is a brain part, there is a passion part, and there is a sacred and unexplainable part that sustains someone through pain, heartbreak, and even death.

I just love this quote, even though I’m a little suspicious of the last one. Hope is that thing with feathers as Emily Dickinson famously wrote. It is a little bit in the here and now, a little in our hearts and a bit mystical.

Ok, so that’s a lot of support from the book about how hope works, let’s talk now about some practical things. First, there’s a free questionnaire based on the book that you can find here: This score looks at each of the three elements of hope and gives you not only individual scores but an overall score. The website doesn’t give a ton of information, but it is helpful to gauge where you find yourself within the elements of hope.

Some practical ways to foster and connect with hope:

  • Mindfulness;
  • Yoga;
  • Breathing;
  • Walking;
  • Nature;
  • Massage;
  • Writing;
  • Meditating;
  • Spirituality;
  • Nutrition;
  • Connection;
  • Service.

Everyone is different and will both connect with and foster hope differently. I hope this review of the Sister’s Hope Project, the book, Hope Rising, and my own musings helps to express some of what I’ve learned. I’m a work in progress, as so many others are as well.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Hope Rising; How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life

  1. Just watched the webinar and I am in awe. I am one of 7 sisters, the only one whose had cancer. This meant so much to me. I also got the book. And, Abigail, it was nice to see you and hear you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post goes perfectly with my WQW post last week about hope and faith. If you get a chance or even want to, I’d love for you to leave a link in the comment section. I love the active stance on hope.


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