Although I have cancer, I would like others to know that I am in no way fighting a battle or waging a war against it. Cancer-as-war is a metaphor that doesn’t work for me.
I was a child when the United States waged an unwinnable war in Vietnam. As an adult I turned on the television and watched unwinnable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. During my lifetime my government has waged other unwinnable wars against drugs, against terror, against poverty and against crime. The word “war” to me has come to mean a struggle that cannot be won, and which at best can only be prolonged indefinitely, at horrible human cost.
That’s why I don’t want to wage war against my cancer. To do so would be to doom myself to failure. After all, I have seen countless obituaries in which the deceased person was described as having died “after waging a brave war against cancer,” or “after struggling with cancer,” or having “lost a long fight against cancer.” If I adopt the metaphor of a fight, battle, struggle or war, my ingrained automatic mental associations immediately give me the response of “unwinnable.” I need a different way of looking at my illness.
My inclination is to shun the whole concept of looking for a metaphor, and simply state the truth. I prefer to state the matter very plainly and simply: I currently have a disease, and my doctor and I are treating it. My treatment might turn out to be effective; it might not. But I will not let the ordinary verbal habits of my culture drag me into an unwinnable battle or a futile struggle. In my present condition, I prefer to be a pacifist and to embrace health rather than pick up a mental weapon to wage war against my disease.
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