A story in a recent AARP magazine, “Against All Odds”, told of a woman who has survived longer than expected given her stage-4 cancer. However, the article was unfortunately typical in its use of military terms such as “battle”, “win”, and the overall message to “fight” cancer no matter what.
I’m always dismayed to see this. First, what pressure does this place on the person with terminal cancer who doesn’t want to “fight”? Are they weak for choosing not to, are they “giving up”? I see patients who are pressured “to do everything” even when seeking peace and comfort in their last weeks is the better choice for them. And, even worse, what does this type of thinking say to those who did “fight”, but lost? That they didn’t try or pray hard enough? That they’re losers? Patients and families can feel like failures when cancer doesn’t respond to treatment.
It’s interesting that we mostly use this language in regard to cancer. We don’t talk about “fighting” heart failure or dementia nor would we enlist “prayer warriors” to do so either. Perhaps it’s a legacy from the “War on Cancer”, which has had mixed success over the past 40 years.
So, the next time you find yourself reaching for military terms when discussing cancer, stop. Think about the implications on your audience. And maybe choose the kind of words you would for other serious illnesses instead.
Watch and share this five minute video about the need for prophylactic end-of-life conversations. Laura Heldebrand, an ICU nurse tells her mother's story.
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