Nice article a few days ago from Betsy de Parry, Lymphoma Rock Star and patient advocate. (I've discussed Betsy's writing before. She is the author of Adventures in Cancerland, in which she describes her experience with Follicular Lymphoma and RadioImmuno Therapy -- she's been cancer free since 2002. I also like her because we share a family name from a few generations back, so I like to think we are cousins.)
Anyway, Betsy has been writing occasional posts for mCancerTalk, the blog for the University of Michigan's Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she received treatment. Her latest post is called "War as a Metaphor for Cancer Can Be Relieved of Duty." I don't want to give too much away, because it's a really well-written article, and I want you to read the whole thing.
But Betsy's basic point is that comparing cancer to a war, and using other language like that (battle, fight, enemy within, etc.) does more harm than good. Again, take a look at the article yourself to see why she thinks so.
I will admit, I do sometimes use that kind of language. I remember it was really useful a few years ago. I am very lucky that I have a job that lets me choose some of the projects I want to work on (certainly not all, but some). I used to enjoy saying No to some of them with, "Sorry, I can't help you with that. I'm busy battling cancer...."
But really, there are some days when it feels like a battle is what is called for, and a warrior is what I need to be. But, as Betsy says, sometimes that's not so good. (Again I say -- read the article.)
The bigger point here is that the language we use really matters. For some people, being a warrior in a battle is important (even Betsy says so). But even small things matter. I remember writing a long time ago about a conversation I had with someone about this. Given who the person was, I think it was probably within a year after I was diagnosed. This friend had been talking to another friend, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer was organizing a fundraising team. My friend had apparently been talking with her about what to call cancer patients.
My friend told me, "If you've had cancer for more than 5 years, you're a cancer survivor. If it's less than 5 years, you're a cancer victim." I had no idea where she got those terms from, and I still don't, but I knew one thing then and I know it now -- I'm no damn victim. And I'll never be. For me, being a victim would mean just giving in to my cancer and accepting whatever happens to me. I just can't be that person.
Does that make me a warrior instead? Maybe. I can still feel the physical response I had when I was told I was a victim. Sure felt like I wanted to fight something, or someone.
I'm not that way much anymore. These days, I still fight my battle, but it's a long, slow battle -- a battle of wits. I'm not a warrior so much as a Cancer Nerd. Think Doctor Who more than Doctor Evil.
And I like calling myself a Cancer Nerd. It fits -- what else would you call someone whose main weapons are ,medical journals and a Blogger account?
More importantly, it's a name I chose, a label I gave myself that fits who I am and what I want to be.
And that's what we should all do and be.