I keep thinking about that expression on Chemobabe’s recent blog post – ’I didn’t actually fight cancer. The truth is, I got treated.’ And I keep coming back to wondering why we use the term ‘fight’ for cancer. Because I agree with Chemobabe, I didn’t fight either. I smiled at my surgeons, I tried not to be cranky with the nurses when I asked for pain relief, I put my lippie on when I went to consultations, I tried to have a good attitude. But I know that none of that has any effect on the medical outcome.
In short, I just I did my best. I only ever felt that I was doing the best I could. Because why wouldn’t you just do that?
When someone else sees me undergoing breast cancer treatment, why do they call me brave? And why do some people want to label me as a fighter? I made my treatment decisions based on the evidence available to me – statistics and medical opinions. It wasn’t some kind of battle ground we were in, it was simply me and my doctors trying to give myself the best chance of staying alive. That’s not fighting, that’s just what we do everyday.
And after treatment ends, if you’re lucky enough to be one of the ones who get to that point, then what happens? I didn’t transcend and smile beatifically and present myself to the world as a survivor. I just picked up the shards of what was left of my life and tried to move on. I was lucky. Lucky that for now I am treated and there is no evidence of disease. For now. That could be how it stays, or it might not.
So, for now, this is what lucky looks like. I’m alive now, in a long present moment of watchful waiting. Yes, I experience whole sequences of days when I’m too down to do very much at all, but I’m neither ‘fighting’ nor ‘giving up the fight’, I’m simply living as best I can. And I still call that lucky.
Because for all the people who are ‘lucky’ like me, there are thousands of others who face all the myriad of crappy things that this disease brings to our lives. So some women progress to Stage IV of this disease, currently un-curable; there are women whose relationships fail and they face this disease alone; there are women who struggle with fertility post treatment; women who lose the chance of being a mother; there are women who die, too early; and women who leave children behind….. and so it goes on. On and on with the ‘terrible stories’ as the poet Lucille Clifton called them. These are the stories of breast cancer that we should be hearing. Not the ‘brave’ valiant ‘warriors’….. that makes it look all OK.
And I find all of this so unacceptable.
Of course, like many other women who experience breast cancer, I try to treasure every precious day, every smile, every kiss. But that’s not fighting. That’s living. In the aftermath, whatever that looks like.
So when people talk about breast cancer patients fighting are they seeing us being brave warriors fighting the disease? But how can we fight a disease that we have no control over? A disease that we still really don’t know enough about and therefore don’t know how to ‘beat’ it.
Because if there’s any fighting to be done then that’s not what my ‘fight’ is about. I want to be heard. I want a voice that speaks above the notions of breast cancer being a simple fight by brave pink warriors. That’s too simple. We need more research, more urgency to find better treatments. More research about prevention. We need to be heard when we speak our pain and our truths. So we really change the dialogue on breast cancer, and actually reverse the statistics of this disease, not just sit back and watch the number of women who are diagnosed increase year after year.
These are the things I want to speak out about. And that is why I write.
Because is all this ‘fighting’ talk to make it easier for those who are frightened? Frightened of death, frightened of cancer, frightened of us? Maybe if they call us ‘fighters’, they can tell us we’re ‘brave’, and then bolt for the door before we get all real? Well, as I’ve said before, ‘Tell it like it is, but also laugh, be angry, and reflect and understand. Be emotional, true and honest. That’s my normal.’
Do I have to fight for that?