This is what our loved ones newly diagnosed with cancer need to hear.
Cancer is a tale told in the language of war. People don’t die, they lose their battle with cancer. Those in treatment are warriors battling cancer or fighting cancer. After treatment, we are survivors. Everyone encourages us to beat cancer.
While no doubt this war rhetoric arose from a place of good intentions, it doesn’t tell the entire story. For instance, many people handle cancer with dignity and grace till death. What term do we assign them? They are not survivors in the truest sense of the word, but they are a model of a life well-lived in the most meaningful way. Others live the years beyond their cancer diagnosis handicapped by fear, panic, and worry. They are survivors in only the most literal sense.
Cancer needs a new metaphor. The rhetoric of war is too simplistic for the complexities of cancer.
Cancer is a large home built by an unknown architect in which you now unexpectedly reside. The architect did not seek your input and paid no attention to your needs and wants. The home comes fully furnished by various forces outside your influence and control. For example, a breast cancer house in 1960 had no windows or telephone with which to communicate with the rest of the world.
Whereas, the modern breast cancer home is festooned with enough pink to annoy a flamingo.
Here is a little know secret. Though the house comes pre-furnished by society, medicine, and your own biases and experiences, it is not fixed. In other words, you can redecorate. Not everyone understands this, but some intuitively get it.
You can spot the cancer designer a mile away. They are usually surrounded by close friends and family. They wear a wig and full makeup one day and are bald and barefaced the next. Almost always there is laughter. A cancer designer understands that their best tool is their ability to alter the interior of the house.
It’s not always easy. You might find your modern aesthetic self stuck, for a time, in a country kitchen. My suggestion is to put as many pineapples themed bric-a-brac as you can in the drawers. Then, maybe invite some girlfriends over to make fun of it all with you. After all, cancer is nothing if not funny.
We can profoundly alter our experiences by designing our environment. My ask is, the next time a loved one shares a cancer diagnosis, pause before answering. Refrain from the language of war in favor of the language of love.
Cancer is a blow to the illusion of control we all carry. The restoration of even a modicum of sway can be powerful.
Try, ‘I am with you’ instead of ‘You can beat this’. This simple substitute is the difference between going to battle with an unknown fearsome foe alone and sharing an evening with friends in the comfort of you home. Choose love.
And for those who are newly diagnosed, don’t fear.
Let others in.
After all, someone has to help you paint over all that garish pink.