What does it mean to think of Cancer as a battle?


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What does it mean to think of Cancer as a battle?

People often describe cancer as a “battle” or “war” or “fight.”

But does it help? Certainly, that metaphor can be motivating. But it can also be inconvenient, says my twin sister Lucy Kalanithi, MD, on his podcast, Gravity.

“The battle is all-encompassing,” she says. “The battle means only resistance, without much room for integration or acceptance. And in a fight there are … losers. ”

When Lucy’s husband, Paul, who died of cancer six years ago, was stunned to see the headline of a regional newspaper: “Paul Kalanithi, who wrote essays on dying, is subject to cancer.” ‘No, it’s not,’ she thought. “He died, but he did not succumb. ”

For patients, the metaphor of battle can also be difficult to handle. “I don’t like that,” she agreed Shekinah Elmore, Dr. Med., MPH, radiation oncologist interviewed Lucy’s podcast. Shekinah had several types of cancer, including breast and lung cancer. Laughing, she says, “I told my husband,‘ If anyone writes about me, when I die, that I have lost the battle with cancer, I will persecute him. I will return and persecute them. ‘”

So if we don’t describe cancer as a battle, how else can we think about it?

For guidance, Shekinah turned to the work Audre Lorde, who suffered from liver cancer. The poet said that “we need to expand the definition of victory so that we cannot lose.” Her version of victory read: “I want to live the rest of my life, no matter how long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently bear, loving all the people I love and do as much as I can than the work I still have to do. I will write fire until it comes out of my ears, out of my eyes, out of my nose – everywhere. Until I inhale every breath. I’ll come out like a damn meteor! ”

After her own cancer diagnosis, Shekinah decided to continue medical school, get married, have a child, and sign a 30-year home mortgage. “Just because I know that the ground under my feet can fall out at any moment doesn’t mean I can’t continue to progress toward long-term dreams,” she says. “And none of that will be wasted. There is pressure to reach these milestones when really any time I have as a parent or living in that house is so beautiful … Every good thing I have done will be a part of someone’s life. And what a beautiful way to live my life … I decided I had already succeeded, I had already won. ”


Have you used the metaphor of battle in your life? Did you find it useful or complicated? Sending the biggest hug to anyone who needs it today. Here the whole episode, if you want to listen, and you can find all eight episodes of gravity here. (Here’s a touching episode where Lucy and her daughter revisit Paul’s words.) Thank you very much, Lucy and Shekinah. xo

PS “Nine life lessons I learned after being diagnosed with cancer. ”

(Photo by McKinsey Jordan / Stocksy.)


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