Battle Language

Another hot-button topic is the use of battle language to describe cancer patients when they die. Fight. Battle. War. Struggle.

Some people say that “lost his fight against breast cancer” suggests that he gave up. Or “passed at home after a battle with cancer” says that she didn’t fight hard enough. I have not ever met a breast cancer patient, male or female, who gave up nor who didn’t fight on their own terms. I know many breast cancer patients (like Seporah Raizer) who are/were adamant that language of that type would NOT be used in her eulogy nor obituary. Seporah died in April 2015 and her family respected her wishes.

Maybe because I’m a veteran, I understand that battles can be lost even when the person fighting gives it their utmost focus, concentration and strength. There are many factors in the loss of a battle. Perhaps one force outnumbers the other by a 10 to 1 ratio. Or, as in the instance of Custer, one force forces the other into a canyon where there is no escape route. Another favored military strategy is to cut off supply routes, thereby denying food, ammunition, clothing or other supplies to the opposing force.

Do I feel like I’ve been fighting cancer? Yes, since October 2007 with the first biopsy. We ebb and flow… I win for a while and then the cancer starts growing again. I try a new strategy (medicine) to knock it back into submission, and will continue to change medicines as the cancer mutates. Some people die within 6 months after metastatic diagnosis, some people live 20 years with metastasis. Similar to the Vietnam war, some of the troops died in a week while some survived through multiple tours.

At the same time, I just talked about learning to live with cancer yesterday. I don’t feel that the word “battle” changes that. When I went first went out to sea on the Navy ship I was stationed on, I had to adjust to the movement and learn how to combat seasickness so I could continue to do my job for the Navy. By the second and subsequent cruises, I’d made the adjustments earlier and earlier and didn’t need to fight puking. So it is with the metastatic cancer. I’m making the adjustments to change what I can and going on with my life. My job now is to educate people; to make you think about what YOU can do. Maybe you’ll join your voice to mine and speak out about metastatic breast cancer. Maybe your passion is finding a cure for Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, Type 1 Diabetes, Veterans care. Who knows? Either way, I believe you will have a battle on your hands. You will need to fight for the changes you’re trying to make.

Have you written your eulogy? Or your obituary? If there is a particular term or set of words that you don’t want used, have you let your loved ones know? Don’t wait.


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