Choosing our words

Java PrintingThe 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.

Recommended reading:

http://blogs.plos.org/publichealth/2013/02/26/the-problem-with-fighting-cancer/

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/an-open-letter-to-people-who-use-the-battle-metaphor-for-other-people-who-have-the-distinct-displeasure-of-cancer

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Choosing our words

  1. I agree fully with the content of this blog, particularly the last paragraph. When I was diagnosed I chose words embrace, acknowledge, diagnosed, treatment, cure, my journey with cancer . Quite frankly I believe when words of violence is used there is no chance of for mental healing to take place. So there is this perpetual anger and we become entrapped in our own mental web of belief that cancer is the enemy which we have to fight to the death.

    So all of us whether diagnosed with cancer, or knows someone diagnosed with cancer acknowledge that the cancer has been identified through various medical tests, that there is treatment and believe in the recommended treatment. ……..and if the person dies accept that we have to die because remember people die of strokes and heart attack daily as well.

    Lets not equate cancer with violence and death…and if we can do that we have made the paradigm shift that cancer is a non communicable disease and has the same effect on the diagnosed individual as that of high high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes .

  2. Thank you for this. I am one of those who find the militaristic, cancer-fighting terminology of the ‘battle brigade’ (love it!) very unhelpful, and I’ve listened to other women in our support groups say the same thing. We don’t want to be ‘warriors’, we want to be whole and well — and warrior-speak is not part of that frame for us. When people apply these terms to us and our treatments, we do feel disempowered, as if the ways in which we choose to approach cancer are somehow second-rate and putting on a poor show. This is especially distressing when it comes from people who have never experienced cancer or its treatment themselves (including the media). On the other hand, I have also heard women for whom this ‘warrior’ mind-set is the motivation for carrying on with gruesome treatments, it is what gives them strength to survive against the odds. All of us are as different as our cancer diagnoses, and the important thing for those around us and for society at large is to respect each person’s choices, and not to make anyone feel that they are somehow responsible for not ‘winning the battle’ with the disease.
    I think that a major reason that the media & people such as Braveheart adopt this militaristic, power-based terminology is that cancer is frightening and makes people feel very powerless. So using it makes *them* feel better. Very often in the cancer experience, those of us living with or being treated for the disease find ourselves having to deal with other people’s fears and pre- (or mis-)conceptions. We find this unhelpful and draining on our personal resources, and often it spells the end of previously close relationships. It tends to be the people who shut up with the advice and turn up with the freezer dinners who become the best friends.

    1. Thanks for this response. Really helpful for those of us who do ‘shut up with the advice and turn up with the freezer dinners’ – feels like we’re doing so little, but good to know it’s helpful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s