This column by Judy Foreman, published in the Boston Globe, is one of the best things I have ever read about cancer.
August 26, 2009
Essay: Time to give up the 'fighting' metaphor
By Judy Foreman, Globe Correspondent
A little over a year ago, just after Ted Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer, I wrote a column suggesting that we stop urging him to "Fight, Ted, fight!" and instead grant him the freedom to live as fully as possible with his cancer until the end, which, sadly, came earlier this week.
The fighting metaphor, especially when applied to cancer, drives me nuts. Cancer is not a war or a football game. It's an involuntary dance with a partner you didn't choose. The fighting metaphor is insidious because it not so subtly implies that if you fight, you can "win." And that if the cancer takes your life, if you "lose," it is to some extent your fault. It's not only patients and their loved ones who fall into this battlefield thinking, but doctors, too, who often see death as a failure. Their failure.
In truth, cancer doesn't care whether you fight or not, whether you win or not. It's simply there, just like all the other horrible, debilitating, scary, painful, life-wrecking chronic diseases that millions of Americans deal with every day. It's time to grow up about this whole fighting thing. Time to give up our so American, so naïve belief in our ability to triumph over adversity. We still believe a "good attitude" >improves survival while pessimism begets failure and death. That's not true, of course, as plenty of studies show. Optimism may feel better than pessimism, but optimists -- and Kennedy certainly seemed to be one -- die, too, and pessimists sometimes do better than their own dire predictions.
The challenge, it seems to me, is to do precisely what Ted Kennedy did. He sailed his boat. He spent time with his wife and kids. He found good doctors, and trusted them. And he kept doing the work he loved, right up to the end. That's not "fighting," in my mind. That's living.
© 2009 NY Times Co.