Cancer language is problematic and much of it is in dire need of an overhaul, at least in my opinion. Of course, words are far from perfect, no matter what you’re talking about. I get that. We gravitate toward the familiar when searching for words in Cancer Land too. We grab words we hear most often and spew them out often without giving them a whole lot of thought.
After all, saying something is better than saying nothing, right?
Totally. Almost always.
But this doesn’t mean we all get a free pass to say whatever we want whenever we want.
One phrase that has mystified me since the day I first landed in Cancer Land goes something like this: I just know you will beat this (cancer).
The thing is, I’ve never been able to figure out how a person goes about beating cancer or what it even means.
Have I beaten it?
I mean, it’s been eight years since my diagnosis. So maybe I have. But maybe not.
Some days it sure as heck doesn’t feel like I’ve beaten anything.
What in the world does “beating cancer” even mean anyway?
Do you beat cancer if you show up for appointments and follow your treatment plan?
Do you beat cancer if you keep a stiff upper lip at all times?
Do you beat cancer if you don’t complain
too much about the brutal side effects you experience – even eight years out?
Do you beat cancer if you pretend you are brave?
Do you beat cancer if you or others decide you’ve morphed into a new and improved version of your former self?
Do you beat cancer if you miraculously figure out what’s important in life?
Do you beat cancer if you accomplish stuff on your bucket list? (I don’t have one, btw. Do you?)
Do you beat cancer if you learn shit or reorganize priorities?
Do you beat cancer as long as you keep breathing?
I do not know.
Seriously, I do not know what beating cancer means.
As long as you’re not dead, are you beating cancer?
But what about all those dear ones who have died?
And can you imagine how it must feel to our metastatic friends when someone says, you can beat this? (Yes, they hear this too)
This beating cancer concept is just one example of how the entire battle talk narrative we’ve managed to create regarding cancer is so bothersome to some, including me. It’s like boxing cancer people into a corner. And I still say when someone dies from cancer, stating she/he lost her/his battle with cancer is insulting.
Staying feisty and positive will not determine cancer outcome. A positive attitude is not a one-way ticket out of Cancer Land. Of this I am quite certain. Dying is not losing to cancer; it is not giving up or a failure to beat it.
The other day, I saw one of those supposed-to-be-inspirational message images floating around on social media again. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen it, too, or something similar.
The author is unknown, so there’s no one to offend. I hope.
What Cancer Cannot Do
Cancer is so limited….
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot eat away peace.
It cannot destroy confidence.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot shut out memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot reduce eternal life.
It cannot quench the Spirit.
I remember someone sent this to my family when my mother was dying from metastatic breast cancer. It sort of irked me at the time, and I couldn’t figure out exactly why. Now I realize it felt dismissive. My family and I were staring cancer squarely in the face, and we were well aware of what cancer could steal, and it was a lot.
In a perfect world, perhaps all those above things would be true.
But Cancer World is anything but perfect. Sometimes cancer does do some of those things. Maybe even all of them. (Don’t believe me? Ask someone with a terminal diagnosis.)
And if it does any or all, does that mean you are failing to beat cancer?
Struggling to live up to some gold standard of what beating cancer means, adds to the already exhausting burden. We need to stop patronizing and judging cancer patients based on misguided battle talk analogies. Cancer isn’t an opponent in some war game you can stomp out by mindset or determination.
Just this week, I was called cynical because I mentioned in a comment that Olympic gold medal winner Kikkan Randall’s cancer outcome would not be determined by positivity, tenacity or all the exercise in the world. These things are coping tools, they are not cancer-outcome determiners. My issue wasn’t with her. Of course, I respect how she chooses to handle her experience. My issue was/is with the battle narrative that society just can’t seem to stop pushing.
If that makes me cynical, so be it. I’ve been called worse.
You cannot beat cancer with sheer will alone. You just cannot.
If battle talk works for some, that is fine with me.
But if it doesn’t work for all of us, why can’t the battle-talk people accept that?
You don’t have to look at cancer as a battle with winners and losers or proclaim to be a warrior unless, of course, you want to. As I’ve said over and over and will likely say again. And again. Be real. Be you. It’s enough.
I’m still not sure what beating cancer even means, but perhaps it’s as simple as that. Or maybe it should be.
What do you think?
Has anyone ever said to you, you can beat this (cancer)?
How does/did hearing it make you feel?
What does beating cancer mean to you?