Stop Saying Cancer is a 'Battle'


I can’t stand the “battle language” of cancer, including terms like “cancer warrior” and “losing the battle” with the disease.

Celebrities withc cancer have their cancer in the public eye, but always seem to be putting on a "brave face." 

Image by: Chelsey Gomez

Celebrities withc cancer have their cancer in the public eye, but always seem to be putting on a "brave face."

Image by: Chelsey Gomez

As we all know, Hollywood is full of smoke and mirrors, as celebrities are under pressure to look their best and to portray a certain image. Unfortunately, it appears this same pressure extends to how celebrities handle cancer in the public eye.

This tendency to portray cancer with rose-colored glasses by the famous can hurt the average cancer patient. It’s not uncommon for a celebrity with cancer to disappear during their treatment and reappear looking “healthy.” Most celebrities do not share the unflattering and ugly details of their cancer with the public.

I can’t say I blame them, but it gives off the wrong image of what cancer truly is. It can also set an unrealistic precedent for patients attempting to live up to the same image.

I’ve observed that most celebrities diagnosed with cancer tend to lean into “battle language.” Battle language in the cancer space includes terms such as “warrior,” “battling,” and “fighting.” A quick Google search of celebrities with cancer brings up articles with headlines such as, “Celebs Who Battled Cancer and Won!” Every article about a celebrity dying from cancer inevitably writes the dreaded line about how they “lost their battle” to cancer.

Let me say this now: NOBODY loses their battle to cancer. Cancer takes many lives, but I don’t know one person who “lost.”

READ MORE: The Problem with the Cancer ‘Battle’

In recent years, more of the cancer community (myself included) has expressed their discomfort with these battle terms. I do not fault patients who find a source of comfort from these analogies, but sometimes I wonder if celebrities simply go along with this narrative. The reason being that it’s easier.

Reframing how we view and talk about cancer can, at times, be controversial. The image of a brave bald patient riding in on a unicorn ready to “battle” is easy to digest.

But the reality of cancer gets stuck in your throat.

One would much rather believe cancer is truly like it is in the movies. Therefore, anyone who threatens this narrative by speaking the truth opens themselves up to criticism.

When your diagnosis becomes public knowledge, it brings in an explosion of grief tourists. Grief tourists range from those who try to be overly supportive to those who want to criticize and judge your situation. A patient who shares their raw, uncomfortable cancer ~journey~ automatically becomes either a martyr or a villain. Thoughts and prayers come flying in alongside alternative cures and demands or even expectations, for you to stay positive.

While my grief tourists may be relegated to my Facebook page, celebrities find theirs writing articles about them in the tabloids. With that in mind, I actually hold a lot of sadness for celebrities facing cancer in the public eye. Their cancer is never going to be truly private, and they have no choice in that. Just imagine the whole world having a front-row seat to the worst time in your life. That must feel really lonely.

A celebrity and I may seem worlds apart, but I imagine myself and a celebrity with cancer actually feel pretty similar. We are both scared and confused. We are both silently crying out to be seen and heard. We are both inundated with toxic positivity sprinkled with criticism. We both feel a little trapped.

However, being just a “normal” person, I have more freedom. The freedom to speak the truth, MY truth about cancer and for that I am grateful.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

Related Videos