Revisiting the Language of Cancer : My Cancer Words matter. That's obvious. A number of you wrote in over the last few days to comment on my use of the word "fight." As in, we're "fighting" cancer. I thought about that when I was writing it. When this came up before, one person wrote in to sa...
NPR logo Revisiting the Language of Cancer

Revisiting the Language of Cancer

Words matter. That's obvious. A number of you wrote in over the last few days to comment on my use of the word "fight." As in, we're "fighting" cancer. I thought about that when I was writing it. When this came up before, one person wrote in to say that she hated that word. If someone was fighting cancer, but passed away, does it mean that person lost? That he or she didn't fight hard enough? That they failed? Of course not. I haven't forgotten that and so I rarely use "fight" in that way. But I couldn't think of another way to say it.

Another person wrote in to say she preferred the word "cope." That's pretty good. After all, we have to cope with a lot: chemo, radiation, side effects and so on. Just getting through the day -- just coping -- is an accomplishment. But "coping" sometimes seems a little too passive. We don't just wait for things to happen to us. We're not just reactive. We're more active than that.

Most of the other words are similar to "fight." "Attack," "struggle," "victory," "battle" -- all of those are used when talking about cancer. And there are problems with all of them, too. So what's the right thing to say? "Resist?" It's hard to use that without thinking of the line from Star Trek: "Resistance is futile." That's certainly not the way I feel, nor is it the message we want to send. So "resist" is out, too.

What does that leave us? Maybe the best thing to say is that we all just "deal with it." Some days that involves fighting; other days, coping. Some days we don't win, some days it's a struggle to do the smallest thing and other days the battle swings our way. We all just deal with it in our own ways and do the best we can on any given day. I'm going to be inconsistent here by using this word after all, but sometimes just making it to tomorrow is a "victory" -- one that we should be proud of.