Today is National Brain Tumor Society Action Day. It also happens to be my first time choosing to speak up about my own experience with brain cancer. This post will contain an action I’d like to see happen formed by my personal perspective.
I’d like you to think about this: what does it mean to battle cancer, and who is the main character in your definition? I often hear people say things like, “my mom’s battling cancer,” or, “he lost his battle with cancer (or succumbed to cancer),” or, “she’s beaten cancer, I knew she could do it!”. How is this different than having cancer, dying of cancer, being in remission, or being cancer-free? It’s not exactly who the subject is, but it is who one thinks has absolute control over cancer, who one calls the winner or the loser, who one decides either did their job or didn’t. It’s putting the patient in the hot seat in addition to everything else they’re dealing with. It’s saying, when you die (unless you’re hit by a car or something) you’ll be a loser because you happened to have cancer. Keep in mind, everyone is going to die, so some of this labeling can be highly toxic in a very difficult time. By calling cancer a battle and scoring wins and losses for people who have or had cancer takes a lot of value out of the way their life is viewed, their worth, and their accomplishments. Doing this IS like cancer in a lot of ways.
Another thing to consider in the “battle against cancer” is, are cancer patients specifically selected? I mean does cancer mainly attract one gender, one race, one nation, one really anything…anyone? Um, no. And more specifically, are people with cancer trained, college-educated in some cancer-specific area? Well, some of them, but for the most part no more than societal averages. I mean cancer is pretty “even?”. So some people know a lot about it and some know very little. So why does it seem fair to put “the battle” on the patients anyway?
Before I go farther, I want to acknowledge that the people who say things like this actually love and care about the people they’re talking about. That’s why I’m writing about this. I know they care! That’s why I’m taking my time, offering my perspective, and risking putting myself on the spot. It’s because I know people with cancer have friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, etc who care, yet might be actually bringing more pain and pressure. I bring this up because I want to help. I don’t want to criticize, but I do want to initiate change. I want you to to see that a cancer-patient is going through something very hard, but please don’t call it a battle! That sounds like it’s coming from a judge, not a friend, not a loved one. Think of supportive, non-judgemental things you can say. Maybe I’ll address this specifically in a future blog, but I’m just throwing it out there for now.
You might be thinking that I don’t think cancer itself is a battle. You might be thinking I don’t think cancer itself has a score or a win-lose ratio. Actually, I do. The difference of my perspective verses what I said above is, who’s actually in the main battle? Although there ARE actions patients can do to effect their cancer positively or negatively, I don’t see the patient as being in a “fight or battle,” but instead in treatment. Then who actually is or should be in a fight or battle with cancer? My opinion is the professionals who choose to make a career and/or business out of it. These would be people and businesses in cancer-related fields of research, health insurance, medical professionals, prescription drug companies, medical equipment, etc. These are the people and companies who stepped into the ring knowing who their opponent was. Many of these people and companies try their best and work very hard to battle cancer (some not so much- and again, maybe I’ll address this later). I encourage professionals and companies doing their best to fight hard! I want them to know That I’m grateful that their knowledge and expertise are going toward amazing victories of peoples’ lives! I encourage them not to give up after setbacks! I desparately want them to win this battle.
But let’s all consider who is in the ring and what the victory is. If you’re angry at cancer, that’s great! Just know who’s in the ring. Who needs your support (and some criticism)? In my opinion, the businesses and professionals. If you want to show your love and support to someone who actuallly has cancer, consider not making their treatment, their experience, and their life a personal win or loss. Consider your motive being a support, like what’s in your heart, instead of a battle you should put in it’s place.