Lately, I’ve been heartened to see so many online discussions and blog posts dedicated to erasing the “losing-the-battle-to-breast-cancer” metaphor. Nancy Stordahl writes about this in a recent post, and I agree that this metaphor is insulting. Frankly, saying someone lost his/her battle with breast cancer (any cancer, really) is insulting and disrespectful to those who died of metastatic disease.
Yet many in our culture continue to divide people into two categories: winners and losers; the “winners” are the heroes and “losers” are the failures. It is divisive and unhealthy for sure.
This “lost-the-battle” language is harmful to people with advanced disease and those who love them. But this metaphor also makes life difficult for cancer survivors who are in the “won-the-battle” camp.
Those like me.
I survived thus far and am in that coveted No Evidence of Disease (NED) zone. I am grateful for the wonderful life I have. Life is a precious gift, and I’m so lucky to celebrate it.
But according to many people, I “won the battle” against breast cancer. But I don’t feel much like a victor, as it’s impossible for me to completely celebrate while others are dying of this dreadful disease.
And being thought of as a winner in cancer roulette unsettles me. In fact, as a survivor, I fear recurrence. It can happen to anyone; why not me? I also often feel the burden of others’ expectations of me. When others find out I’m a breast cancer survivor, they say things like “good for you!” I get looks of admiration for “winning” this hard-fought battle.
I didn’t win a battle, and I am no hero. I’m no warrior. I went through diagnosis and treatment like so many others — completely terrified. I fought as hard as those who didn’t live.
And, as is the case for so many survivors, cancer has done its collateral damage. The PTSD that haunts me is an ugly truth many don’t want to hear about. It doesn’t fit into that nice, neatly packaged breast-cancer-winner narrative that our society relishes.
Truth is, when it comes to cancer, nobody wins.
Have you experienced collateral damage as a result of cancer?
What is the cancer language that you dislike most?
For a related post on survivorship, click here.
Tags: cancer language, cancer metaphor, cancer narrative, cancer survivorship, lost the battle to cancer, won the battle against cancer