Jenni Murray: Robin Gibb didn't lose any 'battle'

What impact would it have had on more virulent cases if I'd crowed about my 'victory'?

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Robin Gibb was the Bee Gee with the falsetto voice who, together with two of his brothers, provided the soundtrack to some of the most joyous moments of the youth of my generation. So it was sad to hear of his death. But at the same time it is infuriating to read and hear, over and over (including, it must be said, in this newspaper) that he "has lost his battle with cancer".

I'm at a loss to know why, despite a number of us who've been through the dread diagnosis and subsequent treatment pointing out that such pugilistic terminology is entirely inappropriate, we continue to be given the impression that death from cancer is somehow an indication of failure to have the moral fibre to fight and defeat it.

Cancer comes in many forms. Some are swiftly lethal, others take their time to kill. Some, given early diagnosis and fast, good treatment, can be cured. Robin Gibb had colon cancer – notoriously difficult to diagnose, as there are few early signs to send you rushing to the doctor. It went walkabout into his liver. He had a very slim chance of survival.

Dealing with cancer has nothing to do with battling or fighting or positive thinking. I was fortunate. I had a relatively early-stage hormone receptor breast cancer. It hadn't spread. It's probably the best researched form of the disease. I gritted my teeth, put my trust in my oncologist, tried not to get too depressed about surgery and chemotherapy and, six years on, I'm still here.

But, supposing I'd crowed about my "victory" or put my survival down to the power of positive thought. What impact would that have had on the young women who had a more virulent strain and knew they were dying? Dina Rabinovitch or Jade Goody, for example. Would they have beaten themselves up, feeling they simply hadn't fought hard enough?

I've been appalled this week that a generally well researched medical drama, House, as it comes to a close, has the central character encouraging his best friend, Wilson, to "fight" his diagnosis of Stage 2 Thymoma – a rare cancer sited in the thymus, a small organ under the breastbone.

Wilson is an oncologist and reckons he has some five months to live. He's made the pragmatic decision to forgo the pain and distress of further chemotherapy to gain, perhaps, a few more months. He just wants to find as much pleasure in what little time he has left with his hair and his dignity intact. He knows enough about the disease to be aware that no amount of fight will make the blindest bit of difference to his prognosis.

So, please, no more talk of "the big C" as a war zone. RIP Robin Gibb with an acknowledgement that he drew the short straw of a difficult disease and a sigh of relief from those of us who are "staying alive" that we were just lucky to get a kinder type of cancer.

 

Jenni Murray presents 'Woman's Hour' on Radio 4

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