Now, I’m more of a football and baseball fan, but I know who Charles Barkley is and I remember that commercial. And it runs through my head quite often these days with a small edit. My mind changes “I am not a role model” into “I am not a fighter.”
There is a prevalent characterization that having cancer is a battle, a fight, a war. And those of us who have cancer are fighters. And warriors. And we can beat cancer – if we just fight hard enough.
Please believe me when I tell you this – characterizing this disease as a fight insinuates that it can be won. That doesn’t help those of us who are facing Stage IV cancer – breast or otherwise. There is no cure for Stage IV cancer. By definition that means that there is no beating it. There is no winning this battle. There is staving it off, there is delaying the inevitable, there is praying for the miraculous, but there is no victory to look forward to.
Many have said something to me that sounds a lot like this – “You’ve beaten cancer once. You’ll beat it again.”
Actually, the fact that I have cancer “again” by definition means that I did not “beat it” the first time. My cancer did not slink off in defeat. It retreated, regrouped and reappeared elsewhere.
Cancer is not afraid of me. I, on the other hand, am brought to my knees – mostly figuratively and sometimes literally – by the reality of cancer.
Calling cancer a battle makes it sound as if there is a level playing field, with both cancer and I having an equal(ish) shot of winning. But, in the immortal words of Adriane Balboa as her husband Rocky took off to train in the Siberian winter against the Russian Drago, “You can’t win!”
In the same vein, when someone with cancer dies, they are said to have “lost their battle.” As if, had they only fought a little bit harder, they would still be with us. Now, I know that I’m ascribing my own point of view to this and no one is trying to say that someone needs to try harder to beat cancer. But for someone in my situation, asking someone to fight or saying someone has lost the fight misses the point.
Honestly, cancer feels more like a job than a fight – take the medicine, swallow the supplements, get the blood drawn, go for the second opinion, see the doctor, see the other doctor, see the first doctor again, eat the kale, drink the green juice, keep meticulous notes, take the chemo, suffer the radiation, lather, rinse, repeat. It is more of a job than any job I’ve ever had has been.
I am not a fighter. I am a disgruntled employee.