top of page

At what point are you finished fighting?

Image by ArtCoreStudios on pixabay

There's a lot of debate in the cancer community around some of the words we use around cancer. Words like fight and enemy and battle.

We fight cancer, that evil enemy.

If we make it through treatment alive, we've won the battle.

Like some others, I've struggled with these words. For the most part, they just haven't rung true for me.

Cancer isn’t an enemy, some of us say – it’s a disease. It’s your own body attacking itself.

It isn’t a battle, we say – battle language means victor and defeated, and dying does not equal defeat. Plus, it’s inherently negative to talk about battle. Choose life, not war.

As I wrote in a previous blog post What Exactly Am I, comedienne Tig Notaro she says the idea of being called brave and using the terminology of battling is troublesome because it feels to her, like to me, that:

a) she didn’t sign up for the whole ordeal; and

b) the prime requirement was to just not die. “It seemed that what people were calling courageous was simply the fact that I happened to still be breathing,” she writes

And yet, I read posts on Facebook from people in the midst of treatment talking about fighting that evil enemy Cancer. When I hear them use battle language, I feel their pain and hear their resolve and courage and see how they're fighting with all their heart and souls for the precious life that's the only gift any of us have.

Are they fighting an enemy? Yes. Its name is Cancer, and they know it well.

Do they know they could lose that battle? Absolutely. They face that reality every day.

Are they resigned to losing? Absolutely not. Most of the time.

Does that make them warriors in a battle?

I think so. And as a warrior, their deeds should be celebrated as an outpouring of the human spirit. If war language helps them embrace life and search for purpose, then it's done its job.

But that hasn't been my story. Not exactly, anyway. Not always.


During the treatment phase of my first cancer back in 2001, it didn't feel like I was fighting.

Like for Tig Notaro, the whole process – surgery to remove the brain tumor, followed by radiation and chemo – felt more like a dreary, drawn-out process than a heroic battle, like throwing a wall of sandbags up around your house during a flood.

But afterwards, when treatment was over, I realized I had been fighting. I realized it because now that had been given a clean bill of health (for the time being, at least), I had no more fight left in me.