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War as a metaphor for cancer

May 20, 2014

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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21 Comments
  1. Amen, Carrol. Well put.

  2. William Krause permalink

    Carrol. . . You’ve cheered me up again. “Wars” against this & that sound hollow. Dad

  3. Mark Longacre permalink

    Wonderfully said Carrol.

  4. Please don’t be passive. I agree with your position against the negativity of war but, your “Doctor is treating?” Love your life and your body, nourish it and stay open to the energy of your world. You have presented such a wonderful acceptance of what you are going through, it is an inspiration to everyone, thank you for that. I wish you energy and love and hope. Betsy Mandell

    • Thank you for the kind words, Betsy! Unfortunately, virtually everything that has happened to me since March has been done to me as a passive subject, and that’s the peculiar nature of Big Medicine / Oncology. The active things I did over the past twenty years (eating organic foods, avoiding inflammatory diets, staying active and taking care of my body) have been completely erased by my diagnosis with MMT cancer, an extremely rare and malignant disease whose cause is not understood. I have no expertise to negotiate or bargain with my oncologists, who dictate which chemo treatments I must take, for how many repeat cycles, and who tell me when my white blood count is sufficient to tolerate another dose. Having cancer is to a large degree to be fairly helpless, but nevertheless I take my daily vitamins, continue to eat healthily, and maintain an excellent attitude. There’s not much else that can be done, for this is not one of the easy cancers to cure. I hope to be healed, not to win a battle against it, that’s all.
      Many thanks! 🙂

  5. yes yes yes.  Love you so much. 

      Best, Cynthia Cynthia Bretheim, MS, NCMT, LMT Therapeutic Massage & Holistic Health

    205 N College #717 (NW corner 6th & College) Bloomington, IN  47404 cynthiabretheim.com 812.333.8858

    ________________________________

  6. imagesbyrox permalink

    Yes! Well said! Recently Paul wrote something inspired by a health issue he’s having which led to surgery. He referred to you, not in name, as a friend who was “fighting her cancer” and I wanted so badly to encourage him to change that… but it was his truth, his way of processing it, as it is for so many people. What a grim way to look at it! But eventually we will discuss it, and perhaps he will also be inspired by your, in my opinion, more holistic approach. He’s such a dear, and has been moved by the whole experience (his own surgery and such.) Interesting couple of years…. as we all age and go through all our stuff, I am feeling so blessed to have you as a friend!

    • I used to use the phrase “fighting” as well, in regard to other people, simply because it was an automatic thing. About two months ago, after it was a question of ME “fighting a war,” I suddenly realized “why am I, a lifelong pacifist, engaging in words like these? There’s got to be an alternative.” Thanks for reading and commenting, Rox! ❤

  7. Alexandra permalink

    Totally agree. Susan Gubar wrote a piece on her NYTblog a couple of years ago that also dealt with this issue.

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/06/not-a-cancer-survivor/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

    Peace!

    • You’re right, and it’s a good blog too. I had not seen it before I formulated my own short essay, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since my cancer surgery. Thanks for sending the link, Alexandra! 🙂

  8. Thank you. I never cared for that comparison either. It makes far more sense to consider it as a disease that help from your doctors it will heal. The more positive your thoughts and feelings the better your body heals. You’re quite right to avoid those concepts that are dark and negative. May the light of healing love envelop you and help you as you need.

  9. Linda Chapman permalink

    I can only imagine the other folks whose lives you are touching (and helping)these days with your writings Carrol. Thank you for including us on your journey and offering your unique perspectives.
    Best, Linda Chapman

  10. I just accepted all those metaphors. But they’re wrong. Well put.

  11. I kind of expected to feel a bit down after reading an essay with both the words “war” and “cancer” but instead I found that I felt thoughtful and peaceful. Thank you, Carrol.

  12. stourleyk permalink

    Ah, so true. Thanks and good health wishes, Carrol. Craig

    Date: Tue, 20 May 2014 22:54:52 +0000 To: stourleyk@hotmail.com

  13. What a great philosophy. Believe in love! All my best wishes.

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