I decided to describe my experience of breast cancer as a 'battle', but this doesn't mean anyone else should

How you describe having cancer should always be a personal choice

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The issue of cancer and the metaphors employed to describe the experience has been the subject of much discussion in the media this week, with researchers from the University of Lancaster finding that many cancer patients find the battle metaphor to be unhelpful.

I do see that side of the argument. Breast cancer is relatively rare in your 30s, but I was unlucky I suppose. Nobody ever imagines they will get cancer, and that it's something that happens to others.

I found a lump in my breast aged 33. It was grade 3 breast cancer – a smallish tumour that had spread beyond my breast in to my lymph nodes. I recall the horror as the doctor told me I would need major surgery and treatment which included five months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, herceptin and five years of tamoxifen.

Initially, I was a total train wreck. I was crying all the time, thinking ‘why me?’, and my biggest fear was leaving my two children without a mother. I was frightened and felt alone with my terrifying thoughts.

For me, the "battle" metaphor did help. In the weeks following diagnosis I got up one morning and decided to fight. I thought I could either lie in bed and cry and just give up, or I could get on with it as maybe at the end of all the treatment I would survive and enjoy life again.

In this way, having cancer was a personal battle of strength will and determination. It was a fight. I fought every day to get out of bed every morning and keep going.

But I didn't win "the battle", I won my battle. I feel proud of myself not for beating cancer but for making something of my life during the worst time of my life.

I have many friends with stage 4 cancer, and I would never refer to anyone having "lost" their battle, as I can see how that is offensive and upsetting. It’s basically a matter of luck whether you survive this terrible disease after all.

But people should be free to describe their experience however they like. Having cancer is neither the time to censor yourself, nor have a metaphor imposed on your experience. We need support and encouragement to be open and honest about our emotions. Macmillan Cancer Support (where I now work) believes that each person’s cancer experience is deeply personal to them.

"As an organisation Macmillan has stayed clear of the 'language of war' because our research shows that some people can find it difficult, inappropriate or upsetting," says Hilary Cross, Macmillan’s Director of Marketing and Communications. "But more recently we have found that young people strongly identify with the idea of fighting cancer and often use this language themselves.”

Having a platform where I could express myself really helped me with my recovery; it is so important to let cancer patients cope in a way that fits them as individuals, and use the language that they identify with most.

Comments