Opinion: The ‘Smile Mirror’ Aimed at Cancer Patients is Unneeded

Opinion: The ‘Smile Mirror’ Aimed at Cancer Patients is Unneeded

IF YOU WERE ASKED THE QUESTION: “How do you think we can help cancer patients?”, how would you answer?


Many people would say that we should provide monetarily to cancer patients.  In fact, every year people do try to help cancer patients by donating money to research, treatment, hospitals, and more.  In 2014, it was reported that 4.9 billion dollars was given annually (as an average) to cancer research and charities.  Many people do this because they were either effected by cancer directly, or because they just wish to see other’s suffering end.


The answer to the aforementioned question, however, probably wouldn’t be a mirror.  However, though most people wouldn’t think that a mirror could be some kind of soultion, Berk Illhan apparently thought that this could be a great help.  Illhan believed this so much, in fact, that he spent two years in Turkey developing a mirror that only activated when you smiled at it.  Illhan’s reasoning behind his invention, which is pretty much a tablet with a facial-recognition camera and a reflective screen, was that laughter and smiling were the keys to getting through treatment.  Illhan spoke to CNN Tech about his research, saying: “I learned morale and social support are two very important factors that can positively change a patient’s experience.”


Illhan isn’t wrong about that.  Research has definitely shown that smiling, laughter, and social support all help an immune system, and help people to destress.


Cancer takes 8.2 million lives every year.


That being said, forcing someone to smile to get a mirror to work might not be the best way to come by this goal.  And a mirror, where someone is smiling at themselves, doesn’t exactly provide “social” support — something he said was an important factor to “positively change a patient’s experience”.  Social would indicate human interaction, and that would indicate interacting with humans that aren’t yourself.


“I heard from many people that they didn’t know how to help. They didn’t know how to offer help. They didn’t know how to ask for help. But if it was possible to gift just a smile, even that would make things better in terms of social support and feeling supported.”  Says Illhan.  And this is where, as though it hadn’t already, Illhan’s project began to lose me.


cancer patients
Berk Illhan’s ‘Smile Mirror’


It is possible to gift a smile — by smiling at someone.  Smiling is contagious and science has shown that just by smiling at someone, you can make them feel worlds better.  Smiling on your own, for yourself, is good too — but forcing a smile could become a burden and nearly impossible in a situation where you could be dying from cancer.


To make it worse, gifting someone a smile by smiling at them is free.  Illhan’s mirror?  $2,000-$3,000.  That’s an expensive gift.


Instead of giving the money to gift a cancer patient a mirror, that only works when you can force yourself to smile, how about we use that money for some actual good to the patients?  Buying them things they may need — anything from food for themselves, to helping them provide for their family, to helping them pay some of their medical bill?  Or, using that money on gas to run errands for the cancer patient.  Or giving that money to cancer research.


All of these; better ideas that will actually help cancer patients.


I think most people who have come across Illhan’s idea agree with me.  CNN’s comment section on Twitter was filled with users who were disgusted by the idea.


Cancer survivor Jacob Brogan wrote for Slate, stating how much he disapproved of the idea.  “Under illness’ spell, we often have little more than our emotional lives to anchor us,”  He writes.  “We cannot predict how our diseases will respond to treatment, but at least we own our frustrations when they fail. […]  Sometimes our lips curl up and we bare our teeth. Sometimes our shoulders pull forward in fear. Sometimes (often) we cry, whether or not anyone is looking. This is what it means to live with cancer, if only because dwelling within the flux of feelings is what it means to live.  Ilhan’s mirror would take even that from us.”


I cannot argue with the fact that cancer patients need positivity — of course they do — but they do not need forced positivity.  This doesn’t feel like a project that’s actually meant for the victims of a disease that takes away 8.2 million lives every year.  It’s clearly a gimmick aimed at those who are going through the roughest time of their lives.

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