Cancer must be “fought.” Obituaries refer to a life lost “after a long and valiant battle against cancer.” We rely on the “cancer armamentarium,” and look for more and more “weapons.” The imagery of warfare against this disease is second-nature and, for many people, extremely helpful.
Recently, I encountered writings by a thoughtful and gifted cancer patient who rejects the battle metaphor. Walter Wangerin
, writer, professor, theologian, and cancer patient, worries that those who see Cancer as an enemy miss an opportunity. He writes
: "Are folks with cancer good fighters if they win? Bad fighters, failing falling foot soldiers, if they lose? Can they be heroic only in triumph? Listen: It never was an issue of defeat or victory … Sickness isn’t an enemy. It’s a rooster’s crow, calling me to the truth of myself and to the precise condition of my relationships …”
Dr. Wangerin, as a patient himself, believes that the warfare imagery constricts the range of the patient’s potential interpretations. “Rather than permitting the interruptions of our lives — like cancer — to enrich our lives, we impose old, familiar patterns of thought upon the experience, diminishing it.”
In other writings
, he notes how his cancer, in taking away his future, has allowed him to view the present with new clarity. “I don't look forward so much any more, dashing to grasp the future. I look left and right. I've the Time, you see, to scrutinize all that is.”
He has become more aware of the present. Last year, when he built a planter in his garden, he had no idea if he would be alive to enjoy the strawberries it would hold. Now, he celebrates the outcome
: “I am granted to close a cycle of life, intensely sensitive to the simplicity of its round, unvarnished shape — and to the grace of it. I have not died. My handiwork has become a food.”
I don’t know what to think. Many times, I have resented how Cancer has unfairly and capriciously stolen away a person that I had grown to admire and appreciate. How can I not feel anger? Many days, I feel locked in battle. For the moment, however, I will try to understand this new perspective and see how it might benefit my patients and, possibly, even me.
The following is feedback received for this blog:
Amen. This is not something to be taken lightly because you cannot turn from the tragedy that is really there, but there is always both good and bad in a situation. WW is one of the better, more thoughtful Christian writers out there. It does not surprise me his perspective is on target. - Rob Lamberts
I just posted something on this track about Resilience on my blog.
(Note: Dr. Lamberts' blog is listed in the blog roll at right and can be found at:
Excellent post. I've had similar thoughts myself, especially about the "courageous battle" phrase so often seen in obits. I don't know what to think, either; but I've sometimes thought that if I knew I was dying of cancer, I'd write my own obit and say something like "after a pathetic and weak-willed battle..."
- Sid Schwab
(Note: Dr. Schwab's blog is listed in the blog roll at the right and can be found at: http://www.surgeonsblog.blogspot.com/)
I had to fight cancer, twice, but there was no anger in it. Cancer was not my enemy but a learning experience I would rather not have had to go through. I didn't pick up a sword but fought for the strength every day to do what I had to do to outlast the cancers. If it was war, it was a war of will and determination on a daily, even hourly, basis. I am a stronger person because of it and have gone on to perform tasks I never knew I was capable of. Perhaps I never would have tried, before cancer.
I went from a person ready to retire quietly 13 years ago to being the head of a non-profit online support group for education and rehabilitation of laryngectomees with a worldwide membership of 2,000, growing daily, 13% of whom are medical professionals. This is run by cancer patients (some under treatment and some clear for years), caregivers, vendors and medical volunteers. I am happy to be associated with them.
I had a good life before cancer but I have a better one now.
Pat W Sanders