DYING FOR A METAPHOR
We see or hear these words every day.
Former England cricket captain Tony Greig used them to describe his diagnosis: “Vivian (his wife) and I are going to put the boxing gloves on and fight this like we’ve never fought anything before.”
Fellow commentator Ian Healy said, “It’s terrible, but one thing he is though, is tough”, in a News Ltd. article describing Greig’s “battle”.
Former cricketer, Tony Greig, image via newstribe.com.
But are military metaphors the healthiest way to describe a diagnosis?
In 1971, US President Richard Nixon declared a “war on cancer” by boosting government funding for research; more than forty years later President Barack Obama committed to “waging a war against cancer as aggressive as the war cancer wages against us”.
While few would argue against a financial fight, scientists question the language labelling the illness. They say it sets up a false expectation within the patient – and society.
“A war is by its nature a time-limited event, in which there’s a defined end point. If we’re still fighting for 40 years, then that implies failure,” medical oncologist and cancer epidemiologist Dr. Alfred Neugut told marketplace.org
As Sally Gritten wrote in her moving article, Living with Cancer, Fighting the Cliches, “People have told me how ‘brave’ I am. Does that mean the ones who died should have ‘put up a better fight’? Could they have ‘faced down the enemy’? If they died, did that mean the disease ‘won’ and they ‘lost’?”
When Mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 13 years ago she said, “I will beat this bloody thing”.
She visualised the healthy cells smashing the cancerous ones. In her mind, the battle-lines were drawn; she would emerge victorious.
But the cancer was terminal. The doctors gave her seven months. She died on deadline.
In the end, Mum couldn’t believe she had “lost” her “battle”. She was a strong woman, winning workplace “wars” with aplomb, how could she come out second best in the “fight of her life”?
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