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Cancer Isn't a Battle

Monday, March 24, 2014

I've recently received my "five year all clear" mammogram: and my goodness I'm grateful.

I know this means that my chances of recurrence statistically have dropped quite significantly.

But although I'm grateful, I don't take credit for the five year all clear. Sure, I've done all I can to stay lean because excess weight is associated with recurrence of estrogen-related cancers. However, it's not the case that "having a good attitude" or battling fiercely" or sheer exertion of will power are successful in staving off cancer.

My mother died of cancer after "battling fiercely". That wasn't her fault. It wasn't her failure.

When I had cancer, it made me angry to be told that I could fight this thing, and that if I just had the proper attitude cancer would not come back. (Which meant: if cancer recurred that would be a clear signal I hadn't had the right attitude and hadn't fought hard enough. And was mostly reassuring to those people who did not have cancer and could somehow credit themselves for that fortunate state of affairs. They must have the "right attitude". Right?)

Lots of us here at Spark People have had cancer. Quite a number have died. It wasn't their fault. More of us will be diagnosed with cancer. We'll offer all possible support, I'm sure. But some will die. And it won't be their fault.

Monday through Friday my Globe and Mail publishes a daily "Facts and Arguments" essay submitted by a reader. Today's was on just this topic of "battling cancer", and one of the best explanations I've read with respect to the limitations of that analogy.

I'm sure many of you will wish to celebrate with me my five year all clear. And: may I suggest and request that one of the best celebratory gestures would be to drop this language of "battling" and "victory" which implicitly "blames the victim" when the battle is lost?

Thanks. And yes: I'm so grateful for the support I've received and for my five year all clear!!

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Am off to read the article, but I so hear you! I agree completely. The battle/victory thing never did sit well with me. I could go on for way to long, but yes, for me it's not the analogy that works regardless of my illness.

    Battling for me just creates more war. I'm looking to make peace with my body - not an enemy to be fought - and that includes everything that's going on in my body.

    We all have to do what works for us. The sooner we all learn that (including me) and take it to heart the better off we'll all be. Thanks for the great blog and especially.....
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    1531 days ago
    I couldn't agree more with you and with that eloquently written article.

    It isn't just cancer, it is any disease process. As though we would live forever if we did the right things.kind of flying in the face of reality, yes?
    So very glad to hear your good news. Long may you continue well.


    1543 days ago
    Being a survivor myself I could not agree with you more . I have lost almost everyone in my family to Cancer I am the 1% that has been cleared for now but there are no guarantees with this horrific disease . For now I am clear but I still focus on eating clean to remain - I also volunteer my time to patients and give away two scholarships a year to two High School Graduates that volunteer their time to patients and Hospice in My Aunts name who passed from a brain tumor through St. Thomas Hospice for me its not enough just to be that 1% although grateful but to educate as well - Very Happy to Hear of you Good News Karen
    1546 days ago

    Comment edited on: 3/25/2014 3:21:37 PM
  • NANCY-
    Congrats on the great news!
    "strength has no bearing on the outcome of her disease." However being proactive and doing what one can, can be challenging.
    Every journey is different, I'm thrilled with your positive outcome.
    1546 days ago
    Thank you so much for articulating what has always bothered me about that language.

    Great news on 5 years of being cancer-free.

    1547 days ago
    Wow... what a powerful article!

    I am grateful for your "all clear", for sure. I totally understand the point of view, as I grew up in a religion that relied "solely on prayer" for healing, and there was that implicit "if you're sick it's your fault... you must not be thinking right." Very warped.

    Some things are just what they are. You do what you CAN to minimize risks, while you still can; but human life *is* limited... and cancer is a beast. There are no guarantees.

    Glad in a selfish way... that you are here, and so willing to share your journey!
    1547 days ago
    That article was a wonderful read. It brought to mind my own dealings.

    You are a wonderful and well person. Congratulations on a 5 year-clear mark.

    1547 days ago
    Congratulations! I am so happy for you.
    1547 days ago
    1547 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
    emoticon news for 5-year mark.

    Good article. Called to mind my best friend from high school who battled breast cancer for 17 years after having been given an estimate of 6 months to 1 year of life left since it had metastasized extensively before being found. She never was cancer free after the initial diagnosis but got to meet and enjoy grandchildren while participating in one clinical trial after another in hopes of helping other ladies down the line.
    1547 days ago
    That is the most wonderful news! I am so happy for you!

    Maybe we should let the person with the disease frame how they wish to discuss it? My father died of cancer and definitely thought of it as a battle. But I understand why many people would not choose to describe it that way.
    1547 days ago
    Woo hoo! I am so happy for you! I'm doing a happy dance for you right now! I am celebrating with you for being cancer free for five years! That's awesome! I'm so happy for you!
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    1547 days ago
    Well said Ellen.
    1547 days ago
  • _LINDA
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    Fantastic news! So very glad your chance of reccurence has gone way down.
    Unfortunately, I have see that terminology on many an obituary saying courageous battle with cancer, etc.
    It is very difficult to get away from that terminology because once you get that dreaded 'C' word diagnosis you are essentially fighting for your life. It seems tame to say I have been diagnosed with cancer and will be starting treatments for it.. Anyone who can remain so calm must have nerves of steel. So how to get away from the reactionary terminology that is so pervasive? I am afraid I can't think of anything that conveys the graveness of the situation. Anything I think of sounds too clinical and unemotional. My friend who survived ten years against a very virulent form of breast cancer that the Doctors said should have killed her in three months will always be an inspiration to me. When you think of that long struggle with chemo, surgeries and all those nasty side effects, how can you strongly describe it without slipping into the fight analogy? I am open to ideas!
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    1547 days ago
    Congratulations on your 5-year 'all clear.' That is such great news for you. So happy for you!

    I could not agree more with you about battling cancer - or any illness!
    I have known people who truly believe that illness -- any serious illness -- has been caused in some way by the person suffering from it.

    So, in addition to having to deal with the illness, that person must then suffer with a feeling of guilt as well?

    In my opinion, that is pure NONSENSE!

    1547 days ago
    I am so very happy for you and your good news.
    I always thought that whole 'lost their battle with cancer' thing was strange.
    I mean I'm all for maintaining a positive attitude in the face of adversity but, pleeeeze, let us not blame the victim!
    1547 days ago
  • KANOE10
    I am celebrating your 5 year clear mammogram! I am so happy for you. That was a powerful article. There are studies showing that some drs avoid patients that are not curable and spend less time with them. Her comment that people do not know what to say when patients reach the between stage is so true. I agree with you. Take the battle away and take the concept of blame out of the disease. Compassion and support are what is needed.

    Thanks for an excellent educational article and blog. Your message is invaluable.

    1547 days ago
    May you keep heaping the "all clear" years on & on!

    1547 days ago
    "And: may I suggest and request that one of the best celebratory gestures would be to drop this language of "battling" and "victory" which implicitly "blames the victim" when the battle is lost?"

    I totally agree with you. I'm quite weary of hearing about battles we have - the most common one we talk about here on Spark is this "battle" with our weight. It's as if we never thought to approach the problem with love and understanding...or at least trying to understand. Instead a lot of us have self-loathing and "wage war" on our fat.

    I was diagnosed in 1992 with pre-cancerous cells on my cervix for which I was treated. I was given the distinct impression by my Dr. that I brought this on myself by having unprotected sex (with a regular sex partner while on birth control). The idea that we did something "wrong" to bring on the cancer is just another way of blaming the victim.

    Thanks for posting that link. I think I'll go read it now. And I'm delighted for you and your all clear mammogram.
    1547 days ago
    I'm very happy for your good news. Congratulations!

    I do so agree with you. When I told someone about my mother's breast cancer, she she blamed her. I know it was from her own fear but.......

    Celebrating with you! emoticon
    1547 days ago
    YAY for your all clear!!!!!!!! Woooohoooooooo!

    And while the chemo and radiation and all do the battle (which is why people get so sick from the treatment, it really is an internal battle), I'm appalled that any thinking, reasoning person might think the "right" attitude will keep cancer, or any illness for that matter, away in the first place, or from recurring. One might have an attitude that better deals with a major illness without falling apart emotionally (although that is an entirely appropriate response!), one cannot control a major illness, or even most chronic conditions, with attitude.

    I mean, do I choose to have asthma???? Does anyone choose to have HIV-AIDS???? Do parents (or children) choose to have any of the many terminal childhood diseases or conditions?????

    Wow. I'm truly appalled.

    And I wonder - do these people choose to be this stupid?????
    1547 days ago
    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    So glad to hear the news.
    Two years clear (from surgery) for me.
    I love how we're all different emoticon I find Seibold's approach as inappropriate as you do the concept of 'battling' a disease...

    Here's to finding whatever works for us, remembering that 'it' is a tool, and gaining health, strength and wonderful lives!

    1547 days ago
    1547 days ago
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