When Amy was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer I actually thought she’d be perfectly fine. I had several friends that had family members develop breast cancer, even a roommate of mine had it and was in remission. I thought to myself “no one dies of cancer anymore” because truly, I didn’t know anyone who had. Add in the odd culture of pink and sparkles that defines breast cancer awareness these days and cancer seemed to me to be more of a social club than a deadly disease.
How painfully naive I was.
But this is not a commentary on the experience, in fact it’s still something I feel very uncomfortable talking about. This is a commentary on cancer “language” and a avenue through which I can vent, hopefully eloquently, because I’m not trying to offend.
It’s been nearly three years since Amy died and to this day it pains me when I hear someone say that they beat cancer because they are a “fighter” or a “survivor” or when I read quotes (like the ones I just read in a magazine tonight): “I’m bigger than cancer” or “I kicked cancer’s ass”.
I completely understand that this language is empowering for the living but what it unintentionally implies is that those who didn’t live just didn’t fight hard enough, or that they didn’t have what it takes to survive. My sister did fight, viciously, to the very end. I know this because I was right there by her side as she drew her last breath. At 29 years old. She desperately wanted to live but sometimes I guess that’s just not enough. It doesn’t mean that she wasn’t bigger than cancer, it doesn’t mean she wasn’t a “survivor”, it simply means that she was unlucky enough to develop an extremely aggressive strain that didn’t respond well to treatment. Refusing to give up is a huge part of surviving, but so is that blind, dumb, confusing bastard.. luck.
I’ve been ashamed to voice this out loud in fear that I would sound bitter or unhappy for those who made it through because that’s not the case at all, I couldn’t be happier for anyone who made it past this terrible disease. I couldn’t be happier for anyone whose loved one got better because watching someone you love die in the way that cancer takes you is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. But I think that it can’t be possible, of all the people that have lost someone they loved dearly, that I am the only one who feels this way. I wish that people would change the language used a bit, be humble and recognize that there are many who aren’t lucky enough to make it no matter how hard they try or how badly they want to. Be careful in your word choice and what is said between the lines, and just be thankful for the cosmic dice-roll that keeps you alive and well daily.