Many people are tired of all the war metaphor usage that goes on in Cancer Land. I am weary of it, too, and avoid it whenever I can. I realize all the fighting and battling words and labels work for some people and that’s fine. But one war metaphor that really needs to go is when a person dies from cancer and it’s then stated in the obituary and elsewhere that she/he lost her/his battle with cancer. I mean, come on. Surely we can dig a little deeper and come up with something better than this to say! There are lots of cancer language traps, but surely we can avoid this one.
Whenever I hear a journalist, or anyone for that matter, say something like, so and so lost her courageous battle with cancer, it literally makes me cringe. Again, this is one war metaphor that really needs to go.
Primarily, it’s the winner/loser connotation attached to these words that is so troubling and many others have written about this already, but it boils down to the simple fact that dying from cancer does not make you a loser. When you really stop and think about this, it is offensive is it not to say someone lost her/his battle with cancer? Even if it’s not offensive to you personally, it’s likely understandable to you how it could be so construed by others.
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As I’ve written about before, the phrase bothers me so much partly because one of the last conversations I had with my mother was about this very thing. She was really sick at the time and pleaded with me not to say in her obituary that she lost her courageous battle with cancer. I promised her we wouldn’t and we didn’t. At the time I didn’t think too much about why it mattered so much to her. I’m not sure if it was the courageous part or the lost the battle part that bothered her so much. I should have asked her, but I didn’t. Clearly, for whatever reason, it bothered her enough to start a conversation about it at a time when she no longer did a whole of talking about anything.
When a prominent person or celebrity dies due to cancer, how many times have we all heard journalists, news anchors and the like write or say, ______lost her courageous battle with cancer?
Talk about tired and worn out phrases…And these are supposed to be “word people”.
And when an “ordinary” person dies from cancer, it’s the same thing. If you read obituaries, time and time again, you will read that so and so lost her/his courageous battle with cancer.
Why not just ditch the winner/loser messaging altogether?
Why not just say, _____ died from breast cancer, lung cancer, heart disease, injuries sustained in an accident, or whatever the cause was? And yes, even when talking about suicide, I would go so far as to say it’s okay to come out and state, _____died of suicide, self-inflicted wounds, or whatever a family feels most comfortable with. Being forthright might eventually help reduce the stigma that suicide often brings to families.
I find it fascinating that we use and reuse some words and phrases over and over and at the same time we work really hard at avoiding other words. We go to great lengths to avoid using the ‘d’ words; death, die, dying, dead.
Maybe we shouldn’t work so hard at avoiding them.
Maybe just stating the simple, clear and honest truth would be better.
I think it might be.
What about you?
Does this particular cancer language trap bother you or not?
What would you suggest be said instead?