The short explanation:

A young Buddhist teacher died of cancer. An interview with him was published posthumously on Facebook. The interviewer used the term “fight” to refer to the young teacher’s experience with cancer. The very first commenter labeled that word “lazy journalism”…

…and this (God help me) is what I wrote back. On Facebook. With that tiny little keyboard.

I think that label may have hit a nerve…maybe…

“Apologies for my tone, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately…

For many people on the outside looking in, they simply have no experience to liken their loved one’s cancer *to*…except one obvious thing that nearly everyone has experienced in some way: a fight. It takes courage to show up to a fight. It takes a lot of courage to show up, day after day, for medical procedures. Both risk your body in profound and unthinkable ways.

That is as far as the analogy remains helpful.

Because I can choose not to involve myself in a fistfight. Yes, there will potentially be consequences for me (to my own sense of self-worth, and to my friends’ opinions of me)…but I won’t die from them. It’s highly doubtful that I’d refuse to fight and then be beaten to death for it. Beaten, sure. Spat on, probably. Maybe even pissed on. But bullies don’t bother to keep beating on someone who has no fight for them.

To make the fight analogy more correct, I’d have to be called a conscript, forced into a war I didn’t choose, fighting an enemy I don’t even know. But no one wants to be called a conscript. No one wants to be reminded that their bodies will live or die at the whim of forces they can’t control. It’s bad for morale. (More on that below.) So I get called a “warrior” instead, and my illness gets classified as a “battle.”

Convenient, yes? That everyone around me gets to use rah-rah kinds of language? That they get to exhort me to be brave? That they get to deal with me working hard to make it emotionally easier for *them* to get through *my* diagnosis?

That analogy simply isn’t helpful anymore. This is cancer, not some pep rally.

Maybe I need to be “weak” today. Maybe I need somebody to be quiet with me, and listen to my fears. Maybe I need to rage against the unfairness of it. Maybe I have to be honest with someone about our life experience together, and there’s only so much time I have left to do that. 

Maybe I just don’t want to be put into a convenient box labeled “brave warrior.” Maybe my experience won’t fit comfortably in a box labeled “battle,” because while cancer is just a disease, it is also often life and death in one word…and it lasts a lot longer than a few hours of blood and mayhem. “War” is the only word close enough, but once again, that makes me either a conscript or a “volunteer,” and God knows I ain’t choosing (or getting paid!) for this…

I don’t need labels and convenient excuses to dodge the truth. I need honesty. I simply don’t have time for anything else.

But, being brutally honest, as a cancer patient, a good attitude may be about the only way I can assist my caregivers. Caregiving is the hardest job there is. So, if my caregivers need to rah-rah their way through this messy, awful job, how can I say no to them?

There is no roadmap for cancer. Everyone has to find their own way. We even have to post our own signage. And deciding which words we want to use on those signs is difficult work. And putting up lots of signs is exhausting.

So is it “lazy journalism” to use the word “fight”? Yes. But he couldn’t very well post something like this in place of it, could he?”

Godspeed, young teacher. And Godspeed, commenter. I certainly broadsided you (and myself!) with this one.


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