Debunking the Phrases 'Cancer Fighter' and 'Warrior'

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A cancer survivor confesses that he feels mislabeled by the words “fighter” and “warrior” when used in reference to his journey.

I have a confession to make: I often play along with the characterization of me as a cancer “warrior” or “fighter.”

But frankly, I am an imposter.

When cancer bubbles back up, I cower instead of putting up my dukes. I know my inner circle wouldn’t fault me for that, but I believe they deserve the truth. From here on in, please don’t use those phrases to describe me. It only raises false expectations.

Feelin’ the Pain

How so? Nearly every time I get a shooting pain in my body, I think that my cancer has returned. I’m a baby boomer, and we get those pains regularly, so it makes no sense to get worked up over a “little pain.” But cancer plays with your mind and you often succumb to your anxieties.

Once I suddenly “lost” eight pounds when weighed at a medical clinic and went into a panic. This occurred when I had just been successfully treated for my cancer’s return and was in the initial stage of a welcome remission. Sudden weight loss could be an indicator that the “Big C” is back, I reckoned. Turns out, fortunately, that the scale was not calibrated properly and my weight was unchanged. See how cancer can mess with you?

Actually, the word “fighter” should be associated with someone in a boxing ring and not a person living with cancer. Some of my fellow cancer survivors will take exception to that, and who am I to question their judgment?

Protecting Our Loved Ones

Think of it this way: Patients with cancer, labeled with that word, could be placating the one voicing it. Kind of a way to protect the caregiver/supporter from the naked truth about cancer’s stubborn persistence. What we do for our loved ones, right?

Likewise, the word “warrior” seems to have a military connotation. We often think of our armed forces as warriors for liberty and democracy – and rightly so. We’re all the better for their sacrifices.

But I don’t think the same phrase applies to cancer survivors. By using that phrase, you might think that you are offering encouragement and positive energy to someone going through this terrible disease. You may be right, but then again it may create a false narrative.

Using Just the Right Term

I’m glad I got this off of my chest because, in the cancer world, using the right terminology is so very important.

To my caregiving corps: Having you in my life has enriched and uplifted me, and I will be forever grateful to you. We cancer survivors always remember those who reach out and touch our hearts with kind words, free movie passes (hint, hint) and regular phone calls, texts and emails.

So, whether you call me a “fighter” or just plain Ron, please know that I will always be grateful to you. Thanks for joining me on this journey!

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