What We’re Talking About Now: BATTLING

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The discussion about “battling” has been an interesting debate, not because there is a lot of disagreement about whether battling is a helpful term in relation to cancer—there seems to be a broad consensus that it is often not—but because of the many different ways that contributors have been arriving at similar conclusions.

So far, several people have suggested that the battling metaphor sets up a perception of winners and losers in the conflict. Mara writes that in that kind of metaphor there “is an undertone that […] we are battling ourselves—or even worse, that we lost the battle or didn’t try hard enough.” Betsy agrees that “the language of fighting and battling is problematic to me when it sets up people with cancer to be potential losers.”

As well as being unfair, suggesting that kind of binary win/lose idea surrounding cancer and those it affects oversimplifies a reality which Ted suggests is “more a chess match than a wild battle.” For Ted, things are far more complex: “There is no check-mate. We just stop playing. You can call it a battle if you want, and I might too, sometimes. It would be great if it were that simple. But it’s not.”

Perhaps the most misleading aspect of the battling metaphor for many contributors is the implication of a decision between condition and individual to fight. That, as Don puts it, “gives cancer too much credit. Battling assumes that someone (or something) started the fight which assumes a measure of will was involved. It’s symbolism that places too much credit to diseases like cancer.”

There should be other ways to understand cancer then, beyond just victory or defeat. Megan writes about a relative with cancer who didn’t “lose his battle”, but instead stepped away from it because he wanted to. “He did not lose, but instead chose to end it. Now, I no longer like to believe that a battle has two sides. I like to believe that there is a win, a loss and a neutral ground of just walking away.

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