Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fighting Cancer

I must confess, I left off my last blog post on a somewhat disingenuous sentiment. I don't really believe in this notion of fighting cancer or, as I said, "kicking cancer's ass". While I was waiting for my diagnosis, Jack Layton died. He died of cancer. One of the articles in the Globe and Mail following his death took on this very subject. The article highlighted this discourse - Jack didn't die of cancer because he didn't "fight hard enough", he didn't "lose a battle". He got sick and the medical treatments we have today didn't work for him. And that sucks. But the article really resonated with me.

I have never wanted to use the discourse of "fighting cancer" because I don't understand how I fight this disease. I have no idea how to personally fight cancer. I don't think anyone does. That doesn't mean I have given up but it does mean that a lot of what is going to happen to me in the next few months and years is really out of my hands. All told, that is probably a good thing - I don't have a clue what I am doing whereas my doctors and nurses deal with this sort of thing all the time. I'm perfectly willing to admit I'm no expert when it comes to cancer.

The truth is, I got lucky. And because I got lucky there is an extremely good chance I will survive and live a long and happy cancer-free life. It is also true that if I had not found this lump for another 3 or 4 or 8 years, this probably would not have been the story. No matter what, my approach would not have changed. I would have been the best patient possible, I would have done the most aggressive treatment possible and followed my doctor's orders to the letter. I would have done everything I could have to "fight", so to speak, but the outcomes likely would have been different.

This notion of fighting cancer places a lot of pressure on cancer patients. We don't want to let people down and we certainly don't want to die, but the reality is, sometimes what we want isn't what happens. When people talk about cancer using these notions of fighting and winning or losing, it can inadvertently suggest that there is something more that someone could have done to change their outcome. In one sense I suppose that might be true - I am not kidding when I say I'm going to be the best patient possible. I'll suck it up and go to every chemo and radiation appointment and take every tamoxifen pill, complaining as little as possible. I'll take every test and drug that I am asked to take. I'll continue to work out and eat well. But that is about the extent of my control. That is about the extent of any cancer patient's control.

We don't fight; we endure.

Now I know some of you are probably worrying because you have said stuff to me about fighting cancer and kicking cancer's ass. Stop worrying right this second. I said stop! Saying those things doesn't upset me or offend me or anything. I appreciate that you think of me at all and that you want the best for me. And let's face it, what the hell are you supposed to say to someone who tells you they have cancer? You want to be a cheerleader and let that person know that you think they can survive. The fighting discourse is one that people use all the time. The Canadian Cancer Society uses it. People with cancer use it all the time. So don't feel bad. I just wanted to get back on my soapbox and talk about this thing I have been thinking about. Plus, I felt guilty for breaking my own rule of not using that language (it is just so pervasive!) and needed to tell you all about it.


  1. Well said.

    Perfectly well said my friend.

  2. Amen Laura, no one could of said it any better then that and you definitely opened my eyes......the power of words eh?

    Love you
    Ash xo