Am I Fighting Cancer? Yes, But …

“Fighting cancer”? It’s a term often said but a matter of some discomfort and debate. I have been pummelling the punchbag of the issues, and here are my thoughts.

Yes, I am fighting cancer. It’s a battle, and if you survive, you go through blood and bruises and can come out injured, physically and psychologically. And like a fighter, I spend a lot of my time stripped to the waist being attended to by medics!

Some people say that the term “fighting cancer” is too aggressive. But I didn’t go looking for this fight. Cancer started it. If I’m fighting cancer, then it’s only because cancer picked a fight with me. I plead self-defence.

In any case, what are the alternative terms to “I’m fighting cancer”? I “have cancer”? Sorry to be pedantic, but that’s not true at every point. I had cancer, surgery removed it, and now I’m waging an intense counter-insurgency campaign to stop it coming back. I’m “living with cancer”? That sounds too cosy and domestic, although obviously preferable to dying from cancer.

But what about when “fighting cancer” goes past “you’re a fighter” and on to “you will beat cancer because you’re a fighter”? It’s always said with good intentions, but it’s a problem. 

We don’t wave soldiers off to war saying “You’ll survive, you’re a fighter”. Why not? Because we know very well that some will die and some will live and that which side the coin falls for each soldier depends very little on how much, or how good, a fighter s/he is. It depends a good deal more on luck.

And so it is with cancer. Survival depends on the type and grade of the cancer, the part of the body affected, the stage at which it was discovered, and your access to treatment (eg. whether the country you live in has a free public health service). Many very brave people have fought cancer as hard as it is possible to fight, but have still lost. They did not lose because they did not fight, but because cancer won. I saw two good friends of mine, thirteen years apart, fight tooth and nail against the aggressive forms of cancer that finally killed them, both at the age of 45, both having raised money and sought out experimental treatments when the conventional, approved ones failed. Both Rob and Brian showed enormous humour, strength of character, determination and optimism. The were fighters, but they lost.

Am I fighting cancer? Yes, I am. But it is not my belligerent attitude that will (or will not) defeat cancer: it is medicine. Nurses, surgeons, radiographers, radiotherapists, oncologists, receptionists, cleaners, pharmacists, caterers, anaesthetists, researchers, dieticians, therapists, physios and more are the army that is fighting cancer. All I have to do is co-operate with them.

And defend them. Folks, this is the fight that is the most important assault on cancer: the fight to defend our NHS from private parasites and Tory cutters. By joining this crucial struggle, we can all be fighting cancer, whether or not each of us is fighting a cancer inside us.

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