I will never forget being with my son Matthew when he was diagnosed with cancer, and the mixed emotions I felt shook me to the core. Shock, fear, anger, denial, helplessness, hopelessness, sadness, and frustration overwhelmed me in that moment. I remember how we held each other so tight. We both shook and trembled uncontrollably, and we cried together. Nothing else brings you closer to your loved one than being told they have a life limiting illness.
Cancer had never really touched my life before. I knew people that had had cancer and been cured, and I knew of people that had died of cancer.
We entered this new world of uncertainty, anxiety, and medical procedures, and I became aware of this new language and energy around cancer. We learned the difference between an ultrasound scan, a CT scan and a PET scan. We discovered new words like, scanxiety, stage 4, malignant, carcinoma, metastasis, immunotherapy, etc. This was a very different and much scarier world!
I suddenly noticed all the cancer adverts on the TV and the cancer charities collecting money. Apparently one in two of us will get diagnosed with cancer at some point in our lifetime and the adverts keep reminding us of that fact.
Cancer patients are described as, ‘Warriors’ who are ‘Fighting A Battle’. These unhelpful phrases including, ‘The War On Cancer Rages On’ may be beneficial for some, but I don’t like this language. We do not use this misguided battle talk for other life limiting illnesses so why do we do it for cancer? Is this narrative really useful in articulating the cancer journey? The pacifist in me wants to scream and shout at the violent metaphors being used.
When Matthew died, the metaphors continued. Apparently, he lost his battle! When people describe how cancer patients lose their battle it makes me sad because it is an injustice to the ones who die. The ones who live win, and the ones who die lose. There are no winners and losers and it’s time to change this narrative!
The cancer journey is not a military campaign and turning it into a war will only create even more fear. It’s time we changed the language around cancer.
As Matthew’s body faded, his spirit flourished.
He did not lose!