Cancer: it’s really not a battle

I’ve been on Twitter again, so it’s my own fault, I guess. They are still out there – the cheerleaders shouting on the battlers. The strong, brave battlers, who they know will win this battle because they are strong and brave.

Please don’t.

Here’s why I think it’s so bad:

  1. It’s meaningless. What is this battle? My battle consisted of taking the prescribed medication, signing consent for the surgery, getting to the chemo unit, lying under the radiotherapy machine. They never gave me a sword.
  2. It puts pressure on the patient. (I’m pretty sure there’s a better word than patient, but let’s just go with it). If you’re told to be strong and positive and brave – well, you kind of feel that’s how you ought to be. A lot of the time I was positive and brave, but sometimes I was negative and scared and anxious – and those are perfectly valid ways to feel when you have cancer. And, actually, perfectly valid in other situations, too. It was helpful to have spaces where I could be negative, scared, anxious. The person with cancer shouldn’t have to protect other people from negative feelings.
  3. What if you lose? I feel this strongly, because I’m a loser. I trundle along, I live in denial, I don’t talk about it much, but I am a loser. Those little time-bombs are sitting in there, waiting to explode. Does that mean I wasn’t strong? I wasn’t brave? I didn’t fight hard enough?

Luckily, I didn’t buy into that narrative. I lost because I was unlucky. Wrong kind of cancer. Bad timing.

It’s a bit rubbish, having Stage IV cancer. I’m so glad I don’t have the added burden of feeling that I’ve let people (and myself) down by not being enough of a warrior.

I’ve seen quite a few posts on Twitter recently talking about the battle, and how strong and brave the battler is. I cringe inside. I don’t comment on those posts – I know the people posting are coming from a place of love and concern – but I needed to get this off my chest. It really is time to move on from the language of battle, and find a better way to show support.

About sarahsouthwest

I'm now in my early 50s. I started writing again as a way of exploring the world, and feel that over the last 2 years I have really grown as a writer. By day I work with children and young people with mental health difficulties. I juggle my own two children, my work, my writing practice, generally managing to keep all the balls up in the air.
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3 Responses to Cancer: it’s really not a battle

  1. Pingback: Weekly Round-Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  2. Sheri says:

    I appreciate the three points about a battle. For me, the battle is really a war of the mind, a war against the desire to be “normal,” plan the future, and focus on what is lost. I keep in mind what I’ve lost but also what remains. That’s how I win the battle. Thank you for your excellent article.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. I do know what you mean – and I wrote about that “battle” a couple of years ago. This post came about because there seemed to be a whole series of Twitter posts saying “so and so is starting chemo this week, but they are so strong and brave, I know they can fight this cancer, and I know they’ll beat it”, with lots of replies agreeing with them. I’m not going to reply to somebody saying “Well…it might not work like that”, but I do dislike that battle metaphor. It really puts a lot of responsibility on the person with cancer. I find it really uncomfortable.

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