Monday, January 26, 2009

Political correctness for cancer patients

Julie Mason wrote an article in yesterday’s Citizen with the headline “I am not a ‘warrior’ in the ‘battle with’ cancer”, explaining why she’s not comfortable with the militaristic language of disease.

Julie writes: “The cancer bureaucracy loves to talk about Winning the War on Cancer or Conquering Cancer; it’s language that makes those of us with the disease into unwilling combatants or at least civilian casualties. Well-meaning folks also impose the language of conflict on us. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told to “keep fighting,” or that I will “beat” it. Like so many people with cancer, I’ve been gratuitously assigned the hero language of “brave” or “strong”.

There seems to be a political correctness evolving regarding the terms we use about cancer. Is it any wonder that people worry about inadvertently saying the wrong thing and offending us?

I’m not sure where I sit in the wide range of opinions on this. On one hand, I have worked hard to alleviate stress, focusing on finding peace in my everyday life. I meditate (or at least I’m well intentioned). I surround myself with people who are gentle and funny. I try to spend time in nature, when I feel up to it.

But there is still a part of me that is a fighter. I’m not content to just light pink candles, hold hands with other cancer survivors and sing Coombya. I’m not necessarily “brave” or “strong”. The truth is that when faced with this disease, you don’t have a choice. You go forward because the alternative is to curl up in the fetal position and stay there. Then the cancer truly has beaten you and you do become a “casualty”.

Although I’m usually a peaceful person, I believe that rightly-directed aggression, can sometimes be good for the soul. Some days it just feels good to think of kicking cancer in the ass. Passively waiting for what comes next makes me feel too much like a victim. I like to think that I’m taking charge, considering what I can do to bring joy and meaning to my life.

I think I am a ‘peaceful warrior’; kicking butt some days and finding strength in peacefulness on others. I have no judgement about the words that others use regarding cancer. We all have unique experiences and we have the freedom to use whatever descriptions, emotions or language that gives us strength and hope.

Related reading:
Is Pink too Passive?
Gag me with a Pink Ribbon
The assertive Cancer patient: Living with cancer – and an attitude


Anonymous said...

Well said, Chris. Very inclusive and compassionate. We need to accept and even honor the "kick butt" days as much as the "peaceful, joyful" days and moments. It all is part of living each day and moment to the fullest. It can get a little rough and tough, though, when we have "kick butt" days that coincide! Watch out world.

Patricia said...

Listening to Dr. Bruce Lipton's lecture "The Biology of Belief" he talks about 3 sources of biological dysfunction: trauma, toxins and thoughts (beliefs). He says if our belief is that we are at war with cancer, we believe we must fight it, then our adrenal system is activated while our immune system is weakened or inhibited. He says our stress/protection response should only be used in emergencies, for short-term, as it is debilitating for our health! So it seems there is some science to add to the debate...
Some people prefer to be cancer "explorers" rather than "fighters". A whole other debate here too.