Our unthinking characterisation of cancer as a ‘battle’ hands responsibility for recovery to the patient – and creates the notion that only the ‘strong’ or ‘deserving’ survive
Glancing through Twitter this morning, I noticed a friend of a friend responding to Barack Obama’s tweet in support of Senator John McCain who has been diagnosed with brain cancer: “John McCain is an American hero & one of the bravest fighters I’ve ever known. Cancer doesn‘t know what it’s up against. Give it hell, John.”
As sad as this news is, and as much as I laud Obama’s sentiments, I have to take issue with his use of war metaphor to frame a response to his colleague’s illness. For starters, talk of cancer as a “fight” is nearly always used to reassure the speaker rather than addressing the emotional and physical reality of the person who is ill. Without wishing to overstate it, the tweet has a lofty, imperious tone to it, as though spoken by someone who is used to getting their own way. Even after successful treatment, if cancer teaches you anything, it is that this rarely happens. Our will to “fight” the disease is irrelevant to whether or how we get better.