Let’s lose the cliche of ‘fighting’ cancer. It’s about facing reality
Your article (Pressure to fight cancer ‘may have negative effect’, 15 May) highlighted the fact that telling cancer patients to “fight” their disease only puts them under undue pressure and stops them talking about end of life. So much of the narrative around cancer focuses on the “fight” against the disease. While more people than ever will survive, the reality is many people will still die from this illness. Planning for death shouldn’t be seen as giving up. Often, it’s about taking back control and positively managing the condition.
At Marie Curie we believe language around illness is important – we try not to use words like “war”, “battle” or “fight”. The people we support have a terminal illness, whether it’s terminal cancer or another condition, and we focus on ensuring they have the right care, information and support. It’s vital to start these conversations early, so people can make their final wishes known. If this happens too late, or not at all, not only can this affect the person’s end-of-life care but their families can be left suffering feelings of guilt or regret. Broaching what can be a difficult subject can have a positive impact on how someone sees their illness and help their families better cope, so that they can focus on enjoying the time they have together.
Deputy director of nursing, Marie Curie
• At last it has been recognised by those at the sharp end that the perception of “fighting” cancer (or any terminal disease) can be not only inappropriate but counterproductive. I am in the terminal stage of emphysema, and the notion of “fighting” is foreign to my nature; I prefer to face reality and talk with
all concerned about the situation, including how and where I want to die. I’m not alone in this respect, and it was encouraging to read that a specialist at Macmillan considers people should be allowed to “define their own experience without using language that might create a barrier to vital conversations about dying”.
Many terminally ill people want to talk (or write) about what a strange, disorienting and distressing experience it can be, and make arrangements for their death that will make things easier for all concerned. I’m not young, but I’m going to die before I’d have liked, and probably before my hale 98-year-old mother, which makes me very sad. But I have told her about it because it would be worse for her to find out afterwards that others knew and she didn’t.
All I can do is take each day as it comes, take the medication, remain as active as I can and derive as much pleasure and joy out of life as possible. Might we now look forward to the Guardian avoiding that tired cliche “after a long battle with cancer”?
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