Last night, as we settled into bed, we saw the terribly sad news that a friend of ours had passed away. Chris had cancer. He died because of cancer.
But cancer did not beat Chris, and he didn’t lose the battle.
Sure, it’s only terminology, just words. But for the people left behind, experiencing the death and pain and emptiness, it’s important. At least it was to me, when my Dad died. I hate that anyone might think my Dad “lost”. That he didn’t fight hard enough, or long enough.
I feel the same now, talking about Chris.
To say a person lost their battle against one of the most vicious, impervious and destructive diseases in society is to suggest there could have been an alternative outcome. It suggests that the opposite could have been possible. If they had fought harder, they could have won.
Cancer uses dirty tricks and sneaky behaviour
Of course some people do “win”. With medication and treatment they are able to successfully recover and move on from cancer. They are cancer survivors, and they are warriors who deserve respect and a happy, healthy future. But just because it’s possible for some people, it doesn’t make those who don’t survive any less worthy of our respect.
Sometimes, cancer is too strong, too virulent, too aggressive to respond to treatment. Sometimes it’s found at too advanced a stage for it to be successfully treated. Sometimes it can be a type that doesn’t respond well to treatment. Or maybe at all. Sometimes all medical professionals can do is slow it’s progress to give the patient more time, or a better quality of time left. Sometimes cancer is incurable.
Chris was more than just a cancer patient. He was a devoted husband and father. He loved life. He loved music and going to gigs and travelling. He loved having fun. Cancer slowly but surely stopped him from enjoying the things he loved. A group of us went to visit for the weekend earlier this year, a surprise organised by his wife, but when the time came he was sadly in hospital with an infection caused by the cancer. Weeks later he was well enough to enjoy other gigs with other friends. He didn’t give in or give up. He certainly didn’t lose, because that would suggest that cancer is a worthy opponent. It isn’t. It uses dirty tricks and sneaky behaviour. It doesn’t play fair, or by the rules.
Last month, british broadcaster Rachel Bland passed away. She had breast cancer. She was only 40, and left behind a husband and young son. Following her terminal diagnosis, and throughout her last years and months, she wrote a blog and produced a podcast about living with cancer. Her journalistic skills combined with personal experience helped to open up what is a very difficult conversation for many people. After her death, The Guardian published an article on this very subject written by a woman who herself has survived breast cancer, calling many of the media descriptions “tired old cliches”. The article concludes, correctly, “now she has died, not because she fought a battle nor lost it, but because she had a terminal illness.”
As her husband tweeted, when sharing the article, “Please, no one ever say my girl ‘lost her battle.’ Changing thousands of lives, being a perfect mummy and wife and leaving a legacy most of us could only dream doesn’t sound much like losing to me”
Like Rachel, our friend Chris didn’t lose his battle. If there was a way for Chris to have “won”, he would have done it. For his love of life, and music and friends. For himself, for his wife, and for his daughter.
Thanks, as always, for reading. x