Words matter. A lot. Cancer words matter too, and it seems to me, cancer language needs an overhaul. The way we describe certain aspects of a cancer experience is simply out of date and worn out. Even when I was a newbie going through chemo, I found certain ideas, words and/or phrases highly annoying. I still do, so I decided to put together a list of what I see as a few of the top cancer language traps. Granted it was hard to narrow it down; but here’s my list, as of right now anyway. And by the way, I don’t think airing one’s cancer language
gripes opinions is being negative. In fact, I think quite the opposite is true; doing so is helpful because how else will cancer language ever evolve and change for the better?
Also, just for the record, I never intend to make anyone feel badly for falling into any of these (or any other) cancer language traps, and I fully realize many people don’t even consider them traps. This is not meant to be a finger pointing sort of post. Heck, I still fall into the cancer language traps, too. Society has made these kinds of ‘catch alls’ so easy and so accessible. Each trap is filled with trite phrases that have been ingrained into our brains for so long, we often just go to them without really thinking about it. Ideas, words and phrases that we use (even cancer ones) can become rote-like too.
I say, we can do better. I say it is time for a cancer language overhaul, because words always matter. Before we can do the overhaul, we need to figure out which traps or generalizations are most troubling for a lot of us and then hopefully come up with some alternatives. The things on this list aren’t specific things people say, rather they are a kind of mind set or a type of thinking that is out there. They represent a sort of accepted way of looking at or talking about cancer; or as I call them, cancer language traps. Each trap has dozens (probably more) of specific examples of things people say. This post and this list is not about those specifics, though I threw in a couple of examples. Nor does this list come close to covering all the traps. But…
For starters, I’m going with these nine cancer language traps which maybe should/could be avoided at least some of the time. Of course, they are all related too.
1. Calling cancer a gift or a blessing (ex. cancer’s the best thing that every happened to me)
2. Above all else, just stay positive (ex. you can beat this if you just try hard).
3. War metaphor words and phrases, and there a lot of them (ex. fight, warrior, win/lose, battle talk, victorious, surrender and so on).
4. When someone dies, saying so and so lost her courageous battle with cancer is soooo cliche. This one is in a ‘war class’ all its own IMO. Journalists almost always resort to this one when a celebrity or someone famous dies. This would be a great place to start the overhaul. Very doable!
5. Cancer transforms you into a new and improved version of your former self – you become enlightened (ex. cancer taught me so much).
6. Cancer makes you strong, courageous, brave, tough, heroic and so on… (tied up with #3 and #4 too of course).
7. New normal talk (what does new normal even mean?)
8. Referring to cancer as a journey – there’s gotta be a better word
9. Any kind of ‘free boob job’ reference for obvious (I hope) reasons
Maybe I’ll do a followup post or two on cancer language later, as there’s so much to say about each of the above. I’m sure I forgot some important traps, so let me know what you think is missing from this list. I want to know what you think.
Perhaps you don’t care about cancer language, much less cancer language traps. But wouldn’t it be a good idea for us all to at least think a little more about things we say before resorting to the old, worn-out cancer cliches so often?
I say yes.
What about you?
What’s on your cancer language trap list?
Does cancer language matter to you, why or why not?
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