I've been volunteering for a while at Willow House, a not-for-profit organization in the Chicago area where families who have experienced a loss can get the support they need to heal. After a support group earlier this month, the volunteers gathered to share their experiences of the evening. Ruth, a Willow House staffer, mentioned something that really stayed with me. She said that cancer is the only illness where the language of war is used, as in "fighting" cancer or "battling" cancer.
Today, I heard those fighting words once more, as it was reported that Chicago's beloved film critic Roger Ebert was said to be battling cancer again. I'm sorry to hear that Ebert has to deal with cancer once again, and I'm also sorry that he and every other person who gets cancer is seen as some kind of noble warrior off to slay the cancer dragon.
You have heart disease. You suffer from a stroke. You get MS or diabetes or pneumonia. But you always have to wage a war with cancer.
The problem with this language is what it means when you "win" or "lose" the battle. Did you lose because you didn't fight hard enough? Did you win because you were strong or crafty or highly strategic as you waged your battle? In losing, did you not want victory enough...or were you too weak to win...or did you choose the wrong tactics?
Cancer is not an illness that only happens to warriors. When you get cancer, you don't have to always be brave and courageous like David flinging rocks at Goliath. A cancer diagnosis is not synonymous with joining the armed forces.
Cancer is sometimes a very scary illness and sometimes just a temporary setback and sometimes it's not much trouble at all. Sometimes cancer takes away your husband or wife or mother or father or sibling, or child. Sometimes it takes you. Sometimes, you get it and you treat it and it never comes back again. No big deal.
Cancer isn't a war to be won. Cancer is a disease. And if you get it, you get it like a cold or the flu or you have it like a broken arm or arthritis or lupus. It can be simple or it can be complicated. But you don't have to arm yourself and put on a uniform like a super-hero when you are diagnosed with cancer. You need a good doctor and loving and supportive friends, family members, and colleagues.
People with cancer may not be especially brave or especially strong. People with cancer are simply people with a health problem. They are your family members, your friends and your neighbors. Their cancer might be so minimal that it hardly effects their day-to-day lives or they might feel depressed, or in pain, or exhausted and anxious. So, let's not give those who have cancer the extra burden of also having to go to war, OK? Let's give peace a chance when it comes to this war-hungry language of cancer.
- Jill Schacter
- My wonderful husband died when I was 44 years old. Being widowed this young happens to less than 3% of married people. Writing through this loss one word at time helps me understand what I've lost and helps me continue to grow. It is how I have gradually recovered from such a severe loss. Research shows that you can benefit from taking just 15 minutes a day to write out your deepest feelings as a way of healing. On the right side of this blog, you'll see a tag for Exercises to Try. If you need some help knowing how to use writing to help heal yourself, I suggest you start there.