Is fighting the right word when it comes to cancer?
When we hear of a person having cancer, some of the first words we think of are 'fighting' or 'battling'. Maybe the militaristic metaphors such as 'war on cancer' and its offshoots 'battling' or 'fighting' aren't entirely accurate for the day-to-day experience of living with cancer. While it's true that a patient's body has to do a lot of fighting because of the 'invasive' nature of the disease, a person is much more than a body. There's a lot going on in a patient's heart, mind and soul.
I said 'patient' instead of 'survivor' because a lot of the learning that goes on when we are around people with breast cancer happens when the person is still being treated. I think that's an important distinction because some articles you read only talk about people who are 'winning the battle against cancer'. I don't want to imply that those who pass on are 'losers', but we can still learn a lot from people whose lives are taken by the disease.
For instance, being around my mom taught me to appreciate the people and things we have in this life as much as possible, because we can't take for granted that they will always be there. She also taught me that blessings and solutions to life's problems don't always come in the forms we expect. When I was having problems with things like boyfriends, she would always tell me that 'things have a way of working themselves out'.
I'm not sure if she was taking a spiritual standpoint, but it's a basic truth you can find in pretty much any belief system. Our belief system is a way of helping hold on to some semblance of hope and trust in the midst of such a difficult transformation, and it applies to both the patient and her support system. Anything that can give someone comfort when living with cancer is worth holding on to.
If you think about it, living with cancer is probably the best phrasing we can use, because that is exactly what's happening. She's going through a transformation, one which affects her whole family. The patient is learning to work around cancer and the painful effects of chemotherapy. She's doing what she can to keep her spirits up, which is very important in the process of healing. When I say 'healing', I'm not necessarily talking about curing the cancer. While surviving or killing all the cancer definitely 'counts', there are many different beliefs about healing that don't involve curing.
For instance, healing could come in the form of a woman coming to terms with what is happening to her body. Once a patient does this, she can figure out what the next steps are to help her make the most out of life. I don't mean this to sound morbid or imply that everyone with cancer dies, but the fact is that some people do. When you consider the many negative effects chemotherapy and other treatments can have on a patient trying to work through cancer, it can be pretty difficult to do the things that make her feel as though she is really living. Even if there isn't a prognosis from a doctor, it's always a good thing to recognize what you have and what is really important in life.
Many faiths have a view about the nature of life that puts more focus on a person's heart and soul in an effort to encourage her when her body seems to be failing. There's also many beliefs about an 'afterlife' that can comfort a patient in the event the cancer takes her. Sometimes healing of the spirit and body requires leaving this particular plane of existence and passing on to another one. This can also be a comfort to the family and friends of a breast cancer patient.
I know it was a huge help to me to know that my mother would no longer be suffering. It's sad that she isn't with us in this life anymore, but knowing that she is in a better place and is no longer in pain has been a big source of comfort. Many faiths also believe that we will eventually see our loved ones again, which can give a lot of hope. It certainly has for me.
If you know anyone who is living with breast cancer, you've probably seen that there is a lot of 'fighting' involved in the treatment. However, there is also a lot more going on that should be recognized too. There's often a lot of spiritual growth in breast cancer patients that can help her and her support system get through this difficult time.
There's also a lot of emotional growth in a breast cancer patient as she comes to terms with her illness and sees what is really important in life. What's probably the most important thing to consider is that a woman with breast cancer is given a whole new lease on life that encourages her and her family to make the most of what we have, while we have it. I think that the metaphors of fighting or battling breast cancer don't adequately recognize these aspect of the transformation of life that surrounds living with cancer.
Medical science is coming up with more and more ways to battle cancer all the time. Perhaps we can come up with new metaphors to describe it.