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Cancer word play: why we need to stop using the language of war

Words associated with the disease don't have to be like walking into a battlefield

Words associated with the disease don't have to be like walking into a battlefield

Fighting, battling, beating, combating and attacking are often words associated with the battlefield. So how have they managed to get into the vocabulary of cancer? 

I noticed how fundraisers such as Channel 4’s Stand Up to Cancer are increasingly using battleground language to promote their events. A recent Twitter rant of mine opened up the quiet dismay from people affected by cancer that this language is used at all. 

‘It may oil the PR machines, but it is unhelpful for people dealing with cancer’

Cancer, as a disease, can appear emotive and it has taken many years to openly discuss the disease across society. Indeed, anyone who has had someone close to them die of cancer will be only too aware that cancer has a mind of its own. Irrespective of the strong desire to live, cancer evolves and overwhelms the system. It is not that people did not fight or battle hard enough; it is that cancer is a complex disease that can behave in mysterious ways. 

Speaking out and up

As nurses we should speak out when this language is used. It may oil the PR machines, but it is unhelpful to the people dealing with cancer, especially when going through treatment is tough enough.

I have referred to the BBC Radio 5 Live’s podcast You, Me and the Big C before. However, its refreshingly honest chat about cancer manages to illustrate the highs and lows of living with it, and ultimately dying with it, without venturing into the battlefield. 


About the author

Susanne Cruickshank is chair of the RCN cancer and breast care forum

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