3:00 AM… I woke up suddenly in a rush.
No… I wasn’t having a panic attack but rather I was finally aware of what has been bothering me for the past few weeks. I did not wake in fear but in clarity.
Let me first state that I do not have permission to write this, nor have I talked to her about this before I post it. In truth, I am afraid to ask permission. This perspective is mine and not hers.
In addition, for the record, I do not speak for her. I have not earned that right. It’s her arena, it’s her court and she has the ball.
I am not even on the bench coaching like I have done so many time for her in the past. She doesn’t need me to coach her. She won’t hear me say things to her about taking the last shot or not passing the ball. I surely will not be blaming her for anything.
Again, these are my words, my perspective and I own it.
Here is my issue…
As many of you know, my sister-in-law has cancer.
The language used to talk about cancer patients often focuses on battle words – those who are cured “won” or “survived,” while those who die from cancer “lost” their “fight or battle.”
But is cancer really something to be won or lost?
Cancer didn’t ask Lynn if she wanted to have a little competition. Lynn didn’t ask to have this.
I know people mean well. I have been guilty of this as well. I know people don’t do it intentionally. I know they want to encourage Lynn, but lately, I get angry when I think (intentional or not) that someone could be symbolically blaming Lynn when she is having a rough time after chemo, or that her numbers aren’t good. It’s as if when we use terms for her to “keep fighting and battling cancer” Lynn must have given up and not have fought hard enough against it.
Trust me… she knows how to “battle” and she knows how to “fight”.
Lynn is an athlete. One of the best I ever witnessed. She understands competition. She understands what it is like to be in the middle of a challenge, when the game is on the line. Those are the times in her life she chose to get into those competitions and games. She was an active participant by her own choice. She chose that competition and she knew that there would be a winner and a loser.
I now refuse to use the word “battling” or “fighting” in reference to cancer.
Now I know she is not dealing with this by choice but I know she will “fight” and I know she will “battle.” She has proven that she is a warrior. But, for me, those words and terms can only be used by Lynn and her journey with cancer. She owns them. Only she can define who she is during this journey. I get frustrated when people so quickly throw those words out about something they know nothing about. That includes me. I have no right to use words like “fight” or “battle” when it comes to her experience.
In addition, friends, family, loved ones and those without cancer often consider cancer patients “heroic soldiers,” but I am sure that Lynn doesn’t feel very heroic when she’s going through chemo. I am sure just wants to take her medication and do what she’s told to do. I can only assume that after a day on a chemotherapy drip, that Lynn feels the battle is being done against her and doesn’t have the ability to “fight” it.
In my opinion, the use of the word ‘battle’ places the responsibility of getting better upon the patient. This opens up the possibility that it is the ‘strong’ or ‘deserving’ patients who survive having cancer, and that those who die from it are somehow lacking in moral fibre or will. This is dangerous and makes me angry.
The idea of cancer as a “battle” unnecessarily romanticizes cancer as a disease when there is nothing romantic about it. Even though the battle has been lost we persist in reassuring ourselves that the deceased has ‘given it everything’. Like so much that is said about cancer by people who have not had it, it is uttered more to reassure the speaker than those having treatment for the disease.
The truth that cancer happens to the best among us as readily as to ordinary mortals. Cancer happens. Food still needs to be bought and prepared and eaten. Bills need to be paid. Mom’s need to be moms. Activities go on and life has to be lived.
Life waits for no one.
Unfortunately this is the side of cancer still very much missing from everyday portrayals of the disease. People prefer stories about the outward signifiers of cancer, for example stories about being ‘brave’ for being seen for the first time without any hair. I’m sure that Lynn did not feel “brave” at that first look when her hair was gone.
I did not see a heroic soldier. I did not see brave.
I see Lynn. I see my sister-in-law. I see the girl who I sat with many times just talking about “stuff.” I see the athlete that loves competition. I see the “lay-up” for her 1,000th point in high school. I see one of Ohio State’s biggest fans.
I see a mom that loves her kids more than life itself.
I see a person who always put others in front of herself.
I see a mom at her daughter’s wedding… dancing.
Lynn gets battered with a load of drugs. People want to use the words “brave” “battle” and ”fight”, but it’s not a great three-part TV drama on Lifetime, full of heroic and brave moments. It’s a long grind, a slow car crash that will last for months or longer.
Lynn didn’t choose to be affected by cancer and because she has cancer, doesn’t mean she cannot make mistakes or be selfish, but it almost becomes an expectation of Lynn that because she is a cancer patient that she somehow must become “strong”, “brave” and “heroic’ and “courageous” with this curse of cancer.
Here is the truth, some days cancer has the upper hand, other days Lynn does. She lives with it and she lets its physical and emotional effects wash over her. But she doesn’t fight it.
Next time you are tempted to use the word “battle” or “fight” please pause to question the use of cancer as a battle, with its inevitable logic of valor, winners and losers. It may be difficult to change such a deeply rooted practice. I am sure that words like “fight” and “battle” make the top-ten list of words commonly associated with cancer. Unfortunate words like “die” and “suffer” comprise the remainder of the list. I believe a word like “journey” might be a better replacement for “battle” and “fight.”
I choose to encourage Lynn to keep on pedaling, to keep on her journey and let her alone choose the “fights” and “battles” in her life. Again, in my opinion, those “words” are for no one to determine or to use except for her and her alone.
She is committed to be in it, to win it. I can only encourage her, tell her that I love her and I am praying for her.
I am sure some people will read this and may get upset with me. That is not my intention. I honestly am not judging anyone. This is just something that has been on my heart and mind and I was getting so frustrated with some of the things I was reading on her FACEBOOK page. I reserve the option to acknowledge that I may be over-reacting to well-meaning people’s words of encouragement.
Either way, God’s got this.
Those with the need to continue to use those terms as a war metaphor as a “battle” against cancer, I do not have to ask myself what side I am on and I am sure neither does Lynn.