This study investigated the positive effects or changes that patients identified in their lives following a myocardial infarction (MI) or breast cancer. One hundred and forty-three patients were assessed in hospital following a first-time MI and 52 breast cancer patients were assessed on referral for radiotherapy. Approximately 3 months later both groups were asked if any positive changes had taken place in their lives following their illness. Patients' written responses to a single open-ended question were read independently by three judges who identified seven major positive themes. Approximately 60% of each patient group reported positive changes from their illness and the reporting of such changes was unrelated to illness severity. The most common theme reported by MI patients was healthy lifestyle change (68%), whereas, for breast cancer patients, it was improved close relationships with others (33%). These results are discussed in terms of the way patients make sense of and adapt to chronic illness.