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We use a lot of different words to describe a person's life with cancer--from diagnosis to treatment, from remission to recurrence. Whatever word is used generally serves as a metaphor to help describe what we feel (or imagine) having cancer is like. I know I've used words like "battle," "fight," and "journey" quite a bit in my writing. And in a recent posting on the New York Times' Well Blog, Dana Jennings takes me, and the rest of the world, to task for doing so. The words "fight" and "battle" upset him because in his mind the patient isn't able to do much fighting or participating in a battle if his/her body is the actual battleground. And it's the drugs an oncologist gives a patient that does the actual "fighting." He doesn't think cancer patients should be called "brave" because where is the bravery in having to show up for treatment? It's simply something a cancer patient must do. "Bravery entails choice, and most patients have very little choice but to undergo treatment," Jennings writes. And don't get him started on the words "victim" or "survivors." (Recently I got an e-mail from a reader who suggested the word "veteran" be used instead. Also, there's been a lot of debate in general about who is considered a survivor.)Jennings' point is that words are inadequate and can't exactly articulate how being that sick really feels; and none of the cliché words generally used to describe the world of cancer really does any justice to, or properly reflects, the actual experience. I'm not sure if other cancer patients and survivors (oops, there goes that word) would agree with Jennings, but I do think he makes a pretty good point. After all, I get slightly offended when people refer to African ethnic groups as "tribes." It suggests a primitive society, and I feel it just promotes a generally inaccurate stereotype of African people and cultures. I'm pretty sure most Americans (or others who live in 1st world countries) wouldn't want to be considered a tribe, even if the definition is "any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions, adherence to the same leaders, etc." And I think cancer is a much more serious and personal issue. The actual definitions, not to mention the connotations, of many of the words we use as descriptors simply fall short of the expressing the actual truth. And we could all probably benefit from thinking twice about the words we use, and why. But what do you think? Are there any words used to talk about cancer that make you "cringe and bristle"?