The fight against cancer’, `battling the disease’, `conquering’, `defeating’, cancer `warriors’ – powerful words, fighting words. Words which many, namely the media, believe will give cancer patients and their loved ones strength, inspire us to carry on believing that together we can `beat’ the disease.
As if just behind us, Mel Gibson or the like is standing by, urging us to be `brave’, focused, `undefeatable’. Words designed to make us stand taller, to make us feel less alone.
The criticism of this language however, comes from within the cancer community. Countless cancer patients write that they don’t feel brave, and being told to be a warrior doesn’t make them any stronger. Being told to `fight’ when they can barely stand is actually, not helpful.
In fact Braveheart, could you stop shouting in my ear, wash that gunk off your face and cook my kids some supper? That would be make me feel a fraction better.
For what the battle brigade are missing is that cancer lives within us, and how do we battle ourselves? This is a part of our own body gone rogue. And while we’re treating it and hating it and going through immeasurable physical and emotional pain to rid ourselves of it, we still co-exist with it.
Let us be careful how we talk of these things. Let us not disempower anyone by making them feel less strong, less brave if their cancer gets worse. Let us not leave bereaved families feeling that their loved ones didn’t `fight’ hard enough.
Let us say instead that someone lived with cancer for however many years. That they underwent treatment for cancer, that they handled their illness with grace. Let us say they had cancer, and with dedicated medical attention, the support of their families and much discomfort, they have it no more.