The Language of Cancer

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

JULY 25, 2017

I was delighted to see this piece from CNN as it gives me another opportunity to rant and rave about the language of cancer. My biggest complaint is this common sentence: Ms. X failed Taxol." Anyone with half a brain and even a tiny slice of heart would recognize the insult of this comment. Ms. X did most certainly did not fail Taxol! Taxol failed her.

All of the war and battle metaphors annoy me, too, although I will reluctantly admit that some people like them. If I end up dying of cancer, I will haunt anyone who writes or says anything like "she lost her battle". This has come up big time now because of the awful diagnosis that Senator McCain has received. Since he is a military man, he may approve of these words. However, he was in a real war, and this is quite different.

On another but related note: I cannot contain myself and need to again express my outrage about Candidate Trump's comment that "he likes heroes who were not captured. Or something like that. My parents were friends of the Senator's parents, and I remember being with them a number of time during his imprisonment. There was no question that they and everyone else were worried sick about him, but so, so proud.

Here is the essay:

Why cancer is not a war, fight, or battle 
By Xeni Jardin

When news of Senator John McCain's brain cancer diagnosis hit the internet, I thought it was beautiful to see so many well-wishers tweet to him with messages of support. 

President Barack Obama tweeted: "Cancer doesn't know what it's up against. Give it hell, John." Rep. Steve Scalise, still recovering from surgeries to treat his gunshot wound, said: "Praying for my friend @SenJohnMcCain, one of the toughest people I know." 

It's hard to know what to say when someone gets bad news, but when I read some of the well-intentioned tweets from McCain's colleagues in the Senate and House, from former Presidents and vice presidents, one thing I kept seeing really bothered me. 
I'm a cancer survivor, and since the day of my own diagnosis, it felt strange to hear it myself. 
"You'll beat this." 
"You got this." 
"You'll win this battle." 
"Cancer isn't as tough as you." 
"You have a positive attitude and you're a fighter, so I know you'll get well soon." 


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Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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