What is this ‘fight’ against cancer?

Ismena Clout
cancer fight blogs 300x225 What is this fight against cancer?

(Getty Images)

One thing that is said to you when you are ill with cancer is that you are fighting cancer, people cheer you on saying that you must fight it and you push yourself on saying that you are fighting till your last breathe to try and win the battle.  I even say that this is a war and while I will win many battles by fighting, I know that in the end cancer will win the war.

This is all great but now I find myself in the position of needing to understand what fighting cancer really means, I got good news last week, the current chemotherapy that I am is working and the tumours are stable which given how fast they were growing is fantastic.  It means I am now on this chemotherapy for as long as it works and I realise that is a double edged sword.  Being on chemotherapy, even one as ‘easy’ as this oral chemotherapy isn’t fun, the side effects are constant with tiredness, nausea, dry hands and ‘chemo brain’ so one hopes to have an end in sight BUT to come off this chemotherapy means that it is no longer effective at keeping the cancer at bay and the cancer is growing again.  So that is a quandary and I’m not sure how to fight that?

I’m desperate to be more normal again, not be so sleepy, be able to eat normally, be able to drink, to be able to concentrate for more than two minutes but really I should be praying for that to be the case for as long as I can. It was this thought process that made me question, what ‘fighting cancer’ really means?

If I’m honest I don’t think I do an awful lot, I think I’m on this roller coaster of a ride and what happens will happen, the drugs do their stuff, till they don’t do their stuff and that’s almost the sum of it. Yes I can think positive but I believe that means for me to find as much joy and happiness in my life as I can (see my blog about it) but can it actually kill aggressive cancer cells, I’m not so sure.  I can eat more healthily and load up on the antioxidants but when you are on chemotherapy there are schools of thought that the high dose supplements can hinder the effect of the chemotherapy.  I can have healing but I think they heal the soul rather than the physical body.

The oddest thought I’ve had about fighting cancer is that essentially you are fighting yourself, cancer is a mutation of your own cells, it’s your own body going wrong so how can fighting really help.  In fact fighting in some ways is harming me, it’s making me try and live my life like I used to and then when I crash and end up in bed for a few days recovering I have to learn all over again what I can’t do anymore and that makes me depressed. The phrase makes me think if I don’t fight to live my life like I used to them I am giving in and I’m scared to give in as that might mean I’m allowing the cancer will run rampant.

While I’m busy fighting can I really find the space to accept what is happening to me and learn to live my life as it is now and find some peace with it.  I don’t want to wait until there is no longer a reason to fight to find some peace, I want to find some calm and peace now so I can enjoy the life I have.  Fighting feels in essence a destructive force, a battle, a negative energy and while you still have the hope of being cured from cancer then that might be right but when you know you won’t be cured isn’t there a better phrase?

The language around cancer is so predetermined, fighting, positive, inspirational, victim; they are all the words people say because it’s used all the time and I don’t have a problem with people saying them to me as I think they use them because they don’t know what else to say and I’d rather they said this than nothing, to face silence is much sadder and lonelier.  But I hope that one day a wider range of language will be used as then it can help us patients know how to feel on our journey through this disease.

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  • g0annahead

    Scourge of a modern day society, understandable considering most of us live with rampant toxicity in our daily lives..
    The internet is awash with “cures” of cancer using alternative methods, but you won’t hear about it here. So one must ask, does the Cancer Industry want a cure?

  • olympic

    Ever wonder how much money is spent on the ‘war on terror’ etc? Why isn’t there billions pumped into the ‘war on cancer’? Why do certain medicines over approx 30,000 not qualify for NICE approval due to their cost, and the NHS refuses to let people ‘top up’ the rest?

    The Julian Assange embassy siege in London has cost around 4 million pounds so far to police 24/7 – why can money be found for this ridiculous waste of money yet there is a huge shortfall in cancer treatment funding?

    Why is the cancer research by big pharma such an ‘industry’?

    There is a lot of politics behind the standard of care we get in the UK, and we are far more likely to have a threat to us from cancer than any perceived threat thousands of miles away where the UK feels we should invade/occupy or fund.

  • richard.loe22

    As a cancer sufferer who has spent most of my working life with the military I get to hear the “be positive, fight the disease” type of comments quite often. But my colleagues mean well, they just don’t have any other way of expressing their support. And there is scientific evidence which suggests that having a positive view makes the treatment easier to bear.

    Yes Ismena, I agree, it can be really hard when they’re treating you, even the new types of treatment now available have some side effects and they can be hard to live with. Sometimes I just want to give up. But like you I end up in a quandary, because I don’t want to have to say good-bye to those around me. So its just a case of gritting my teeth and getting on with it.

    As for a normal life, well, what is normal? Is that normal for me, who used to to be really fit for my age (46)? Or is it normal for most others of my age? No I can’t run as far or as fast as I used to only 2 years ago, but I can still run reasonable distances. Sure it is frustrating not to be at my old level, but I have to live with it and accept it – after all, a decline in performance was going to happen at some point in the future.

    I found that what helped me was to accept the changes and to try and gain peace of mind that way. It took time. As you wrote, I had to learn to accept what was happening and live my life as it is now, not as it was. Not easy, but a necessary step.

    But at the end of the day, I’m still alive! And for that I am thankful. Because I think its worth all the hassle – I didn’t know what I had until I realised I might lose it.

    Good luck Ismena!

  • katiebairdie

    I’m about to get my 5 yr discharge and I always wondered about whether I was ‘fighting’ cancer or not – I never felt I was. I don’t know that I’ve been particularly positive or upbeat, but I would say I just got on with it. It wasn’t until my 3rd year that the gloom set in, but there are more places to help get you through those times, just as when you go through any rough time in life. I agree with Ismena about feeling I should be living life like I used to is a waste of time – it’s more harmful than helpful to get into this mindset, so you find other things/ways to assist you get on. Acceptance seems the best way to cope, not ‘fighting’, knowing that if you can’t do a thing, it’s OK, you don’t have to beat yourself up for no longer being ‘capable’ – you do what you can, how you can and make the most of what energy you have. Everyone has their own coping mechanism & I’ve come to terms with mine. The best thing about this article is it’s given a forum to ‘tell it like it is’.

  • Judi Sutherland

    You might like a book of poetry by Anthony Wilson called “Riddance” which is about his experience of lymphoma. Use of the words “fighting cancer” is one of his biggest pet peeves about they way people spoke to him – as if, by trying harder in some unspecified way, a cancer patient can somehow make remission more likely.

  • harleymc

    And what I wrote is my personal response to the snake oil new ageists response to my cancer.

  • harleymc

    Where are the scientifically valid studies…

    But what the heck we have someone who has studied acupuncture for a year but I’m guessing they haven’t qualified in medicine or nursing ( or they would have mentioned it), no post grad studies or years of experience in oncology… Instead we get a whole load of waffle about pools of water and an assurance that it’s ’sucessful’.

  • harleymc

    Thanks for the ad hominem attack on ismena. Your behaviour is low!

  • harleymc

    And thanks for the attack you made on the memory of people who don’t survive.

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