Fuck the “Fuck Cancer” Warrior Rhetoric
[Trigger Warning: Sorry about the language, Dad]
I recently shared an article, “Stop Saying John McCain Will Beat Cancer Because He’s a Fighter,” on my blog’s public FB page, and it triggered a lot of discussion. Personally, I agree with the article. The “warrior” rhetoric can make terminally ill patients feel badly if they don’t fare well, even when their wellness is far beyond their control. The idea that McCain or any of us can muscle our way through a Stage IV cancer diagnosis by sheer fight and courage perpetuates the seductive, but bullshit, notion that we are in control, that those who are healthy have done something more right, more honorable, than those who succumb. Ouch. That’s a pretty insidious message for people already bearing a heavy burden, and it’s simply not true. There’s a lot of luck (or lack of it) involved in the health/sickness lottery. I didn’t use to think so, until my own number came up. Now I know for sure: most of life is out of our control. It takes a lot more strength to acknowledge that, than to pretend we can fight/warrior our way out of everything.
Additionally, I also want to mention that the “Fuck Cancer” meme does not resonate with me. And, it’s not because I’m too delicate for the word fuck. I’m fucking not. It’s also not because I enjoy living with a cancer diagnosis. I assure you, I fucking don’t. But, for me, “Fuck Cancer” is a misdirection of anger and energy, offering an easy out for a much more complicated situation. I have seen my personal cancer cells under a microscope. They are just mindless cells, misbehaving because something else went wrong, not because they themselves have drawn swords and are trying to kill their host person. In fact, when the host dies, so do the cancer cells. They don’t “win.” Telling them to fuck themselves accomplishes exactly nothing. It’s like punching a wall when you are angry. The wall doesn’t care, and now your hand fucking hurts, genius. I understand the need to blow off steam, but for those who truly dislike cancer, meaningful push back requires targeting the real causes. When I get angry about cancer, I get angry at a system that has spent decades and billions and not got nearly far enough; I get angry at politicians who reduce research funding; I get angry at greedy corporations that pollute our air, water, and food with known carcinogens… There are a lot of things to get fucking angry at/about. I try not to get distracted and squander precious energy flipping off the mindless cancer cells themselves. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
For what it’s worth, here’s my public notice: I am feeling well right now, but when my time comes, please do not say “fuck cancer” or that I “battled” or “lost the battle.” There are other options besides the binary fight/not fight. I have been living with a Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis for 3.5 years. I had less than a 20% likelihood of surviving year 1, and I’m staring down less than a 5% statistic of surviving past 5 years. I work hard at this, constantly researching, advocating, minding my choices on food, supplements, exercise, etc. But, I don’t call it “fighting.” I strive to focus on living as well with this as long as I can. That’s a meaningful difference to me.