The language around cancer is full of metaphors to do with war. ‘Battles’ are won or lost. People are ‘warriors’. Breast cancer survivors are pink warriors.
The radiologist who did the biopsy of my breast even called the thing he used to take a sample from my breast a ‘gun’ and he said he was going to ‘shoot’ it into my breast. I told him that really wasn’t appropriate and he needed to find a different name for it so for the rest of the appointment he called it a ‘device’. I was nervous enough in that room without him introducing war images into the situation.
I can understand how seeing yourself as a warrior fighting a battle could motivate some people. But it really doesn’t work for me. I’m very uncomfortable with the war metaphors.
For one thing, if I eventually die of cancer I don’t want people thinking I died because I didn’t ‘fight’ hard enough. People aren’t expected to fight against Aids-related illnesses or TB or strokes. I don’t want the pressure of needing to be a warrior just because the disease I’m dealing with is cancer.
If the war metaphor applies at all then I feel like I’m the battleground rather a soldier. Maybe the oncologist was ‘fighting’ the cancer with the weapons of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. While he was doing this, I wasn’t fighting anything. I was just trying to get through each day.
I’m also uncomfortable with the war metaphors because cancer didn’t come into my body from elsewhere. It’s not a virus or a bacteria (though some cancers, like cervical cancer, do have links to viruses) that needs to be killed or chased away. The cancer cells that were in my body were made by my body. They were my own cells. Rebel cells. Badly behaved cells. But my cells, nevertheless.
So instead of going to war I’d rather think of dealing with cancer as negotiations or peace talks. Instead of ‘fighting’ with cancer I’d rather figure out what the rebellion was about. I’d rather see if I can change things so that there is no need for my cells to rebel again. Calm things down. Introduce some humour or kindness into the situation.
I’m not at all critical of people who have been diagnosed with cancer who do find it useful to see themselves as warriors in a fight against cancer. Everyone has to find their own way of dealing with the situation. But I’m only comfortable being a warrior when I’m in a yoga class.