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If not “fighting”, then what?

The following is the text of a letter I sent to the editor of the Independent newspaper, responding to a letter in today’s paper in which an oncologist deprecated the use of the word “fight” in relation to a cancer patient’s management of his or her cancer.


Dr Bruce Sizer takes issue with the language used in describing a cancer patient’s struggle with cancer, on the grounds that if the patient dies of the cancer then they “lost” their battle (Letters, 28th January 2010). But he fails to offer a better alternative to the word “fight.” As a cancer sufferer recently diagnosed with inoperable oesophageal cancer, I like to use the word “fight” to describe my interaction with the condition.

I know and understand that there is no clear reason why I contracted cancer; I was simply unlucky. I accept that my cancer will probably kill me within two years. That focuses my mind intensely on enjoying as much as possible every day between now and my death. I fight the cancer with weapons such as medical treatment including chemotherapy, anti-nausea drugs, pain medication; the help and support of my friends and family, doctors and nurses; and as much good humour as I can summon. I call it a fight because every day that I enjoy myself, or achieve something of which I can be proud, is a victory for me. Victories include the making of photographs, cooking and eating good food, and visiting and chatting with friends. These are real victories to me. They make me happy. They maintain my good mood. They make life worth living every day.

When I die, I shan’t have “lost” my battle with cancer, because death will always have been the virtually inevitable ending of my story. But I shall have fought, and I shall have had multiple victories. I don’t know how else to describe what I do. I would certainly be willing to consider a good suggestion, but any other word would have to be outstanding for me to use it instead of “fight”.

It will be interesting to see whether it is published. Watch this space.

{ 10 } Comments

  1. Hugh McGuire | 28 January 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Barbara Ehrenreich has written some really great stuff about her experience with breast cancer, about what she calls the “cult of positive thinking” around cancer. She was mad as hell: at the cancer, at growing rates of cancer, at all sorts of things, and she felt oppressed by the pressure to “think positive.” She didn’t want to. She wanted to be angry. And didn’t feel that anyone had the right to tell her that was the “wrong” thing to feel.

    I have no idea whether that’s good or bad (she went into remission, for what it’s worth), but it seems to me that all of us deal with these huge traumas in our lives in different ways, and it’s curious that everybody else seems to have such strong opinions about how people should or shouldn’t approach them.

    So I say, fight on!

  2. Seonaid Teal | 28 January 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you get so much out of the blog. Its a great read. Well done. I’ll keep reading.

  3. icyjumbo | 28 January 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Oh, don’t worry, I will!

    Actually, I knew about Barbara Ehrenreich, and wrote a post about how strongly I agreed with her about “positive thinking”. was where I wrote about learning to choose how to react to events, as advocated by Martin Seligman.

  4. icyjumbo | 28 January 2010 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    @Seonaid, you keep reading; I’ll keep writing ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Veronica | 28 January 2010 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Hi Chris, As you say, interesting to see if they do publish.
    My impression, (and I hope you will set me right if I am wrong), is that you are looking at this process as a series of challenges, an approach that seems perfectly logical to me. The size of that challenge, from the small having coffee with friends, to the enormous processing the diagnosis, is immaterial. The joy of meeting that challenge and succeeding cannot be underestimated.
    I don’t believe that there is any “right way” to deal with any illness. Each individual has to do what is right for them, and if it’s not what convention dictates, so what. Where would science be if no-one ever thought differently.

  6. David Allsopp | 28 January 2010 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Hi Chris,

    I have the slight problem that I agree with both letters, so something is amiss ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I think it comes down to defining what battle(s) you are fighting and what constitutes a victory. I think Dr Sizer is arguing against the idea of a singular win or loss at the conclusion of the entire ‘campaign’ – whereas you are enjoying victories (plural) day by day.

    The definition that Dr Sizer is, er, fighting against would make us all losers (after all, we all eventually lose our battle with the universe, and die). But the sum total of our daily, yearly victories hopefully adds up to a happy total.

    So I agree with you that there seems no better word than “fight”; perhaps Dr Sizer would agree with it too if others defined their battles and their victories as you do!

    Good to see you today,

    All the best,


  7. icyjumbo | 29 January 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    David A. and Veronica, you both seem to be saying about the same thing, and I think you’re both right. I admit, I’m willing to define things any way I like, as long as I can do it so that I choose to be happy as much as possible. Strangely enough, that is quite a strong point of focus for me at the moment.

    Veronica, I’m sorry to hear about David’s trigger finger. That sounds painful. I hope it’s not archery related, although I suspect it might actually be keyboard related instead ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Catharine E | 29 January 2010 at 4:39 am | Permalink

    Great letter, Chris! I wouldn’t be surprised if they get a bunch of letters from cancer patients, and I hope they choose to print a bunch of them (yours included, naturally).

  9. icyjumbo | 29 January 2010 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately it wasn’t in today’s print edition, and the online version of today’s paper isn’t up yet. I suppose there’s still tomorrow. Nevertheless, I felt it was important to say something, and some people saw what I wrote. David and Veronica both commented with interesting syntheses of Sizer’s and my arguments, which probably approach the best way to look at cancer and fighting.

  10. Elly Smith | 16 July 2010 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi Chris and Gill, I just wanted to say how much we have appreciated your blog and if there is anything that we can ever do to help you just let us know. Elly, Duncan and family x

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