Monday, January 30, 2012


Word Matter.  It's just that simple.  Tone of voice, decibel level, body language.  Those matter, too.  But mostly, for the purpose of the conversation that is currently taking place inside my head, it's all about the words.

War metaphors are big when discussing disease.  Some people find them helpful and I say, "Whatever gets you through.... go for it."  Me?  Not so much.  I don't recall saying I was battling cancer when I was in active treatment.  I don't recall feeling much like a warrior, either.  But, I know plenty of people who find comfort using those words.  I can absolutely understand how it could be empowering, could provide both strength and comfort.  

When someone succumbs to the disease, the death notices seem to announce the passing using some sort of verbiage including, but most definitely not limited to "long, courageous, valiant battle."  When a death notice is being written, I think that's generally the opening line.  It's one phrase.  Followed by the people with whom the deceased shared their life..... Sometimes, there is a little information about their activities and accomplishments.

The notices are obviously written by those left behind.  Those who watched the suffering in the prior weeks and months. They are heartbroken as they spend every waking moment praying for a miracle and desperately looking for ways to obliterate the pain.  But there is no miracle and only death obliterates the pain.  And now the broken hearts are shattered into millions of pieces.

How about honoring the "battle" with a little description for the rest of the world.

Her smile remained bright even as the disease progressed throughout her body.  For several months, she lived in constant pain yet she always managed to be the bravest one in the room.  Her greatest fear was that she would not be here to see her daughter in a prom dress, or graduate from school or dance at her wedding or cradle her grandchild safely within her arms.  Sadly, her fears were realized when she died of breast cancer despite the best treatment that medicine had to offer.

That's far more realistic than "after a courageous battle with breast cancer."

Christopher Hitchens whose name may be familiar to some but not to most was interviewed by Anderson Cooper before he died of cancer in December.  While he will continue to have many critics, even posthumously, because of his political and atheist views, he was a brilliant writer.  Likened to Thomas Paine and George Orwell, his words pretty much sum it up for me:

"You're watching poison go into your arm.  People saying you should be struggling (against), battling cancer.  You're not battling it.  You couldn't be living a more passive moment than that.  You feel as if you're drowning in powerlessness."

You may have been an atheist, Mr. Hitchens, but those words?  All I can say is:  AMEN, Brother,  A M E N.  


  1. AnneMarie, great post. You're right about this sort of thing, but no one wants to face the reality. It's not really a battle, is it? It just is and we're not brave, we're just doing what we need to do. What anyone would do to stay alive. Some people seem to forget that cancer can't happen to them, but that's what we understand, it can hit anyone, any time and then they'll know, too. We're not battling, we're just surviving. xoxo

    1. Stacey,
      Yes, indeed... Surviving and going through whatever "motions" (read-treatents) we are afforded to give us the best possible odds. Still, nothing is a sure thing. For me, the battle is being waged in the labs. And that is where the war needs to be won.

  2. Very thought provoking. It's like the one we always read in obituaries: Passed peacefully away.....You never hear "Went out, kicking and screaming"
    Cancer Warrior

    1. I'm reading the comments after returning home so I get the chance to read below and agree with Barb..... And yes, that is definitely more obit speak. "peacefully in her sleep" ......

      I'm enjoying your blog .... just wanted to share that with you, too!

  3. Replies
    1. The more involved I become, the less tolerant I am of carefully packaged words. Tell it like it is.... there was nothing valiant about what I witnessed. Just rapid deterioration and I do mean rapid.

  4. I remember my sister saying to me "you're the bravest person I know" - to which I answered, "I'm not brave, I cry every morning in the shower and I'm scared to death" Although my hope is to live a long life and kick cancer's ass, I will be writing my own obit and it won't say I lost my long, courageous battle. It will say something similar to what was written by Cancer Warrior above, "Went out Kicking and screaming!"


    1. Barb...
      I've been thinking about you-was set to put out an APB. Funny how you say you will be writing your own obit. I was thinking the same thing when I was reading hers. I will be appropriately respectful but there will definitely be a twist just to make the point. There's nothing pretty about breast cancer. And, yes... we need to make our feelings known. Pretending to be brave when we are petrified serves no purpose. Shining a light on our fears allows us to move past them. I have moments... and at certain times, I have lots of moments that, at times, can come at me for a few days..... This past week has been one of those extended moments. The reality of what is possible, though unlikely, has been right in my face. Hard NOT to let it affect me..... Hope all is well!

  5. Christopher Hitchens was indeed a brilliant writer. He's so right about feeling utterly powerless when it comes to sitting back and letting the chemo "battle" our cancer.


    1. Yes, Brenda..... when I watched him and heard those words, I remember thinking that was just SPOT ON. I visualized sitting in that chair being hooked up to monitors and IV lines and all that stuff... and I realized, I wasn't battling anything. I was just letting everyone else take over the battle for me. "I did my homework, now you all do the rest." Once the decisions were made, I had no fight left. I was so drained from the process.

      And my sweet friend, YOU are the EPITOME of how we are supposed to live our lives. And I love that about you... along with lots of other things. I know how deeply spiritual you are... and I know you would have been touched by the beauty of today's Catholic mass. FIVE priests were on the altar. Two cantors. And then, I see you acknowledging that Christopher Hitchens was a brilliant writer. A man who was so controversial in his writing about religion....most people of deep faith would dismiss him entirely.

      So much admiration for you, Brenda. Truly.


  6. Words do matter, AnneMarie. Let's ditch (and cover up the trenches of) the war language and take up instruments of peace. They go much farther. xx

    1. This is not going to be easy...... but if we keep at it.... we can be the change we wish to see in the world. (someone famous.... brain frozen). Thanks, Jan. xoxox


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