Fighting Talk

This is the second post exploring “cancer cliches”, the first one being keep your chin up.  More to follow on looking well, being positive, being brave and well I could go on and no doubt will!


When the British tennis player, Elena Baltacha died from liver cancer recently, I posted on Facebook that it was sad news but that I wished the press wouldn’t say she had lost her battle with cancer.  It seemed to strike a chord as I got quite a few comments agreeing with me. This may be controversial but I really dislike fighting talk in relation to cancer and particularly dislike hearing of people in the public eye losing their fight or battle with cancer or even beating cancer. though for some reason there is less of  the latter!  It demeans our lives if all it comes down in the end is that we lost our battle with cancer. Cancer is not like a game of tennis which you can win or lose and have some influence over depending on how well you play. I am sure that Elena Baltacha showed true grit in dealing with her diagnosis and illness but she was never going to win her battle. If I lose my battle with cancer does that mean that I’ve not fought it hard enough or that somehow I haven’t done enough to beat it, come up with the right strategy, lived the right way, had the right diet, had the right attitude etc etc ? Have I somehow failed?

Does the fact that I only got 15 months remission from my first stem cell transplant whereas some get 5 years plus mean I am not fighting it hard enough or just unlucky that my disease is more aggressive.

James Steinberg

Is cancer something I can fight against or is it just a disease following its pathological course in my body which will hopefully be abated temporarily by chemotherapy or some other treatment.  Cancer is random, recovery is random, it is not a battle, it is a disease. Does someone who has heart disease or diabetes lose their battle with it or does this just apply to cancer?   It just seems to apply to cancer maybe because it is the disease that we are all frightened of getting and probably know someone that has been affected by cancer as more than 1 in 3 people will get some form of cancer in the UK.

I appreciate that for some people fighting talk and imagery may help them deal better with their cancer but I am not at war with my body.  There have been times when feeling rotten on chemotherapy,  I have tried to console myself with the thought that at least the horrible treatment is killing off my cancer cells, imagining that I have one less bad cell to deal with.  Please note I am not talking about VISUALISATION here or invading armies!  I can’t stand that either. I also see why cancer charities use words like fight, beat, stand up to cancer etc to raise awareness and funds. They have more impact and imply that there is something we can do to beat cancer but it places too much responsibility on us which is unrealistic. Cancer will only be beaten through advancements in medical science, earlier diagnosis and awareness but not by individuals fighting their own battles. Of course the idea that somehow you can personally beat cancer leads to a whole industry of alternative remedies, therapies and diets etc etc which in my view cynically exploit desperate cancer patients.  I just looked online and here is a few examples below. There are many more.

fight-cancer_large image8 eat_to_beat_cancer A-Cancer-Battle-Plan-9780874778939 fight-cancer-body-in-motion

So I may be gritty, I may be strong, I may even be resolute at times but I am not battling or fighting my cancer and if anyone writes in my obituary that I lost my battle to myeloma, I will come back from my grave and kill them. Now that is fighting talk!






Filed under Cancer, chemotherapy treatment, Health, Life and death, Multiple Myeloma, Myeloma

28 responses to “Fighting Talk

  1. Michael Harrington

    I really like your take on the whole ‘public’ face of cancer. It changes my perspective on how I will talk to others about my own experience with MM. Thank You!

  2. Kathy Farr

    I agree, Wendy! I’ve never cared for the term “fighting cancer”. I’m just LIVING with cancer and trying to manage the cancer treatments. We need new phrases.

  3. Madeleine Deveau

    So agree with you Wendy on all points. I am living with Myeloma and learning to be compassionate towards my body. As I work with others (am a therapist), I encourage the same attitude of loving all our body, even illness. Cancer does not have to destroy our life spirit. I attended our local Relay for Life yesterday, I never wear the survivor t-shirt again because of the fight word.

    • Hi Madeline, I agree, I don’t want to spend my time and energy fighting, I’d rather be getting on with life with myeloma. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  4. Brenda

    I agree 100% with what you have written Wendy. I could not have said it any better or more succinctly. I too am not in a “battle” with cancer. I like your comparison to someone with heart disease etc…….no one uses terms “fight or battle” in those instances. Cancer is a disease, with particular characteristics… aggressive, indolent etc…THAT affects the course of the disease! I am tired of people telling me about “a friend who has had MM for 10 years and continues to do well”…… Invariably they know nothing about the disease and the variables, like genetics etc that play a big part. Anyway, thank you for this last entry Wendy.

    • Hi Brenda, yes you are right, it is annoying when you are told of people with myeloma who’ve had it for years and are continuing to do well. It is great for them but doesn’t mean that you are going to as well.

  5. Eve

    Hi Wendy,well said Slim was diagnosed in February 2011,I think he has been unlucky,but I do not think he would have got this far,if he was not a man who is determined ,may be fighting is the wrong word,in the great scheme of things,it’s not important.
    I can see what you mean by people exploiting people with Cancer for there own financial gain!! With fighting ,or beating cancer,and would agree with you completely .

    I tend to use the words not giving in,or not giving up hope,I do think this is very important,and I will fight his battle to choose himself the time to die,I was told by a doctor that because he did not want DNR put on his file,one day I would not have any choice?????
    So there are battles to be won,choice of treatment??, the right to carry on having treatment,when it’s been refused plus the right to chose when to die?????,,we saw the way Dai,Keith and others fought for this right,if you read Arnie,s Blog on Myeloma Beacon,the fighting is with the right for treatment.

    • Hi Eve, yes I see that you, Slim and others have had to fight for the right to have treatment and other issues to do with health care, not something I have experienced so far and not something that any of us should have to experience but I differentiate that to “battling” with the cancer itself which is what I take issue with.

  6. ” If I lose my battle with cancer does that mean that I’ve not fought it hard enough or that somehow I haven’t done enough to beat it, come up with the right strategy, lived the right way, had the right diet, had the right attitude etc etc ? Have I somehow failed?”

    Those words really hit home for me. When people tell me “Oh, you’re going to beat this,” I don’t know how to react. It’s not like this cancer is going to just go away (barring a minor miracle, which I would happily accept). I can’t change that fact, no matter how hard I “fight”.

    I like to visualize my cancerous cells being healed, being welcomed back into the fold as healthy Lisa cells. Visualizing a fight just makes me feel tired.

  7. Mary T

    Very well said. I wish people could figure out that being realistic is not being pessimtic. So many well meaning people cause me a good deal of stress with the constant repetition of fighting, this diet or that diet, did you try to get in a clinical trial with the measles vaccine…..
    The uneasiness of listening to it take recovery time as I just keep quiet and l let them feel better for having “comforted me”.I then continue on my journey of doing the best I can. I am not battling myeloma. I am living with it and doing what I am capable of to manage it hopefully for a good long time.

  8. terry

    Hi Wendy, Despite having a really awful Revlimid day, I still had to send a reply. Once again, you have managed to say someting that I have also thought about, and completely agree with. Extremely well written, again, so thank you very much. I haven’t the energy tonight to add anything to it, I can only just about manage this email, as the Rev is so strong today, but just to say, thanks. Terry


  9. Podcar

    Right on!!! Xxx


  10. stephen

    Whilst I gave the OK for my image to be used in the attached ‘Fighting Cancer With Fitness’ photo, I admit it’s a bit insensitive. The shot was taken on my fifth day of dex so the only evidence of my recent sct is the lack of hair. It defies credulity that we with multiple myeloma enjoy this incredible metamorphosis, even with a spiking ‘m’, the latest drug protocol gone flat and motivational advice like, ‘When the going get’s tough… etc, etc.’

    I can already feel the dex effect waning, my physique morphing back to its normal 65 year old, weary form. Oh well… the shorts won’t fit tomorrow.

  11. Joe Brown

    Hi Wendy,
    I’ve just read Christopher Hitchins last book, Mortality, and he has a section in it on the language surrounding cancer – in particular the ‘fighting talk’ metaphors. Chimes very much with what you’re saying. I hadn’t given it much thought till I’d read him and indeed, when I went through my first auto SCT, I think the whole battle visualisation helped me enter the thing with a degree of steely determination. I’m now just 1 week out following my second SCT and I must say I no longer took the same combative mentality. This time round I felt somewhat more chastened and viewed my myeloma as an unfortunately confused, misguided child of mine – a part of my body that had lost its briefing notes and was winging it with unfortunate results.
    I do – and always have – try to bring concerned family and friends around to the harsh realities of ‘living with myeloma’. I couldn’t have been any clearer after SCT-1 that my myeloma hadn’t been ‘beaten’, but just kicked into the long grass for a bit. It would undoubtedly re-emerge someday. That didn’t stop many from being ‘shocked and surprised’ when I relapsed…..well I did say it would be back.
    Anyway, hope your as well as can be expected. Another excellent post, Wendy.

    • Hi Joe, thanks for your comment, I will check out the Christopher Hitchens book, I have heard it is worth reading. I hope you make a good recovery from your second SCT, something I will be facing at some point soon.

  12. Victor Thuronyi

    I absolutely agree with you, Wendy. A close woman relative dealing with Stage IV cancer also feels the same way about battle talk. I bristle at the idea of others characterizing me as being in a battle. A battle is something you choose, and I am not getting in to a losing fight. It might be better to say that someone is “challenged” by myeloma (or some other cancer). I think it is also perfectly consistent to take very determined action to stave off the cancer without thinking of oneself as “battling”.
    What I find interesting is why people use the battle idea. The idea of the dragon-slaying hero (or the one who dies valiantly trying to slay the dragon) seems deep-rooted in human experience. It is not the way I’d like to see myself, tho. What does the battle idea say about how comfortable people are with mortality? Does the fact that each human being is going to die mean that each of us is going to lose a battle? That seems quite wrong.

  13. 314really

    Reblogged this on becoming 65 and commented:
    a really good perspective

  14. Great blog and great replies as ever Wendy, i like to take the philosophical position where fighting almost anything produces winners and losers, takes energy and shuts down possibility. I try to take the ‘shoulds’ and ‘need to’s out of my vernacular, the stick and the pointed finger…
    However in practice of course, i relish confrontation and frequently find myself fighting useless battles particularly with my children!! In saying this I would not minimise or generalise away from the extraordinary requirements of living with cancer, I know I don’t understand it at all . Reading such a humbling and honest dialogue that your blog creates is a privilege…
    I hope you are having a good day.
    lots of love to you

    Prue xxxx

  15. I agree with you, totally, and very well said. You haven’t posted for awhile, so I hope it’s just because you are compiling your thoughts. Sending you energy and lovely lights of comfort…

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