Recently, we had a discussion with several cancer survivors and allies about how they feel about the words “battle” and “warrior.” Both words are commonly used in referring to people with cancer, however, they are actually quite controversial.
We know that the language we use to speak about people with cancer, like everything else, is so important, not just because it’s part of our mission to inspire women with cancer, but also because it’s important for everyone to understand the implication their words can have.
If you’ve been curious as to how cancer survivors and allies feel about these words, here’s what some of the folks we chatted with had to say.
Wendy shared that the terms make her feel incredibly uncomfortable. “Warrior and battle are tied to victory. I don’t feel victorious about my experience. I endured and managed, barely.”
Many of the women actually felt the words didn’t quite apply to their experience. Ellen mentioned that while she was a bit annoyed by the word “journey” she understands it better now. “Life is a journey; your cancer journey is an obstacle in the journey of life.”
She, along with a few other women, including Lori, just felt that the word “warrior” didn’t apply. “I just want to feel as normal as possible in the middle of the fatigue and the myriad of symptoms from treatment. I want to feel like your friend you hung out with and weren’t afraid of breaking or saying the wrong thing to. I want to laugh and carry on and appreciate the treasures in my life.”
Several of the women shared that in using the word “battle” there is an implication that those who have died could have fought harder, and like Jennifer said, “you would have won.”
Tamara did have strong feelings about the word “warrior,” saying that she felt like one. “Sometimes one that is getting her butt kicked by chemo or radiation or the mental challenges that go along with this but still a warrior. I don’t mind being called a fighter and I actually need that at times to just get through.”
But she made such an important point when it comes to supporting someone with cancer. “Every single person deals with cancer differently. It is not a one size fits all. It’s not a one word fits all. It is very personal and we will not all respond the same and that is totally okay and acceptable.”