My friend Stacy shared an article written by a cancer survivor about the terminology used surrounding this disease on Twitter. The article really resonated with me, so I retweeted it with the following comment:
My Tweet didn’t sit well with another patient on Twitter, who called it “ugly” and asked me to take it down. I’m guessing he never read the article to understand the context my tweet was written in. Context is everything people. Especially on a platform like Twitter that moves so quickly people often forget to consider it. I kindly responded to him:
In my tweet I wasn’t blasting everyone who used the word “beat” to describe their “fight” against cancer. I just said I “secretly loathe” the use of the word. Everyone is entitled to describe their experience with cancer using any word they like. I happen to personally cringe when I hear the word used, but fully understand that we all need to find words that illustrate and often sugarcoat the process of being diagnosed with and “fighting” this relentless disease - no matter how cliché they may be. We must instill hope into cancer patients by any means possible.
I get that most laymen don’t know the inner workings of this disease, and it's easy to say someone “beat” the disease when they personally didn’t do anything but show up and let a surgeon remove it from their body. In my tweet I was just stating very basic and medically supported facts about this disease.
I have plenty of friends who surgically “beat” cancer, and are counting down the scans until their own personal game of Russian Roulette passes the 5-year mark and they are considered officially cured. It was just their luck their cancer was caught at a stage when it could be cured by surgery alone. And maybe it's just their luck that the adjuvant chemo they did happened to catch that one rouge cell that was ready to take up residence in their liver. Or maybe it was just their luck that any of those rouge floating cancer cells never found a place to bed down and grow. Or maybe it's their bad luck that they did.
Your friend didn’t “beat” cancer by going to Mexico and drinking carrot juice. He was surgically cured of cancer before he went to Mexico. Chris DIDN’T beat cancer because he changed his diet. He beat cancer because he was surgically cured of cancer and happened to be one of the lucky ones who never had a recurrence.
In the end cancer patients, caregivers, their friends, and family need to find words that are going to lift up and inspire them. Use any word you like. Please. Create any metaphor that illustrates the process of managing cancer care that will empower your experience. And if you can do it using Star Wars even better! But read the article and consider the implications your words have for someone who is giving everything they have to knock back this disease in their body with little to no success.
If I ever “beat” cancer, I will know it’s not because of anything I personally did. It’s not because of my strength of character. It’s not because I put up more of a “fight” than the next guy. It won’t be because I’m tough or strong. It will be the pure dumb luck of my tumor genetics and their response to chemo and targeted therapies far longer than ever expected or anticipated by any research study.
I have watched too many friends go through the most horrid experiences and pain to stay alive, yet succumb in the end. I think of them when I hear someone use the word “beat” in association with cancer and that's why it bothers me. I feel like it devalues all the crap they went through, and I wonder what antonym we could collectively use to describe all the shit they put up with only to die in the end.