Skip to Content
chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up chevron-right chevron-left arrow-back star phone quote checkbox-checked search wrench info shield play connection mobile coin-dollar spoon-knife ticket pushpin location gift fire feed bubbles home heart calendar price-tag credit-card clock envelop facebook instagram twitter youtube pinterest yelp google reddit linkedin envelope bbb pinterest homeadvisor angies

Language Cancer

We’ve all seen countless articles about how we should stop using “battle” and “fight” for people living with cancer. We are not “winning” or “losing”. I have no desire to be at war with my body or anything about my body. I remember very early in my treatment, I had been envisioning the chemotherapy coming in like an army to fight off the bad enemy of cancer. And about 3 treatments in, I decided I hated that imagery so I replaced it with light and love coming in to drive out darkness and disease. I still do that. It just feels more peaceful for me.

Also, I am not on a journey. A journey is defined as “traveling from one place to another.” I am not traveling to some destination. I am living my life every day, as fully as I possibly can. If I were on a journey, you would see pictures from an exotic and beachy location.

So if it’s not a fight or a journey, then what should we be saying?

I’m not sure actually. I really struggle with what to say to people at the moment (people who don’t know obviously). I firmly believe that words are powerful, and affirming and envisioning a perfect, healthy body is really important, so I want to be careful about the words I choose. For example, I called my primary physician’s office today and stumbled over leaving a message…

“I have cancer and a cold is creeping in.” Nope, I don’t have cancer, and I will not say that I do. I have to affirm that the cancer is gone. It’s just how I operate.

“I am a chemotherapy patient with a weakened immune system so I need to see someone about this cough.” Well, that just sounds stupid and is way more words than is necessary.

“I am in treatment for cancer…”  That’s a little better than what I finally said.

Other terms and phrases used often:

“I’m a survivor.” Well I’m probably going to upset some people with this one, but I don’t love that either. For starters, people assume that means you “beat” (see, there it is again, the “fight” nomenclature – it is SO deeply ingrained) cancer some years back, when in fact, many people use it from the day of diagnosis. It also implies “I lived through something that others didn’t.” And while from a definition perspective, that might be true, I just don’t like that separation of winners and losers. Maybe it’s just me. But it bothers me. It feels like the “losers” just didn’t “fight” hard enough I guess.

I also said “I’m living with cancer” for a while, but that sounds like I invited it in and we are enjoying tea together. Also not the imagery or assignment I want to give it.

I think I’m pretty good with words in general, but I’m telling you, this has me stumped. I think it’s one of the reasons I just prefer to be bald when I’m in treatment. The head speaks for itself and I don’t find myself having to explain why I can’t do something, or why I’m so tired or nauseated. Maybe it has more to do with all the negative connotations around cancer in the first place. I will say “I HAVE a cold” without even thinking about it, because of course a cold comes and goes and there isn’t this dreadful mortality rate attached to it. And there are chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure – we “have” those and never think about that language. But cancer, that feels like telling someone “I have a fatal disease”, so no, I don’t want to say that.

Here’s what I do know. We have to be able to talk about it and support people with cancer in a way that is positive and affirming. We have to change the language. Perhaps as research continues to move forward, cancer will one day be viewed differently.

– Ann Pinyan

Join OCI in the Fight Against Ovarian Cancer Today.