The battle-warrior-fighter-hero language has been ingrained in our society and culture, and it’s something many people use when they try to speak to someone dealing with cancer, chronic illness, mental illness, and even death.
There’s a handful inside the cancer community who use it themselves, and it reinforces the idea that the rest of us like this language. Many don’t, including me.
I’m not a warrior.
I’m no one’s hero.
I’m not fighting a battle.
I am the dirt where destruction took place.
And for my friends who died… they didn’t lose their battle. They took the disease down with them. It’s a draw at best. And the war is over, at least for them.
A late friend’s sister took it even further when she declared in the obituary that “he won his freedom from the illness. No more suffering, needles, surgeries, poison or pain.”
Warrior-speak is an extension of the positivity that many people like to use to counteract the darkness that cancer carries. There’s this need to shower tragedies with light, to show that rainbow after a storm, to slather icing on a burnt cake that was forgotten in the oven. It’s sugarcoating the lie so it’s easier to serve and swallow.
Every time someone called me a fighter or acknowledged my “battle,” I felt like an impostor. My battle was spent playing on my Nintendo Switch, sitting on a recliner, and asking for a warm blanket before the nurse moves on to the next patient on their list. Am I a terrible cancer patient for not being more iNsPiRaTiOnAl?
I’m not brave for “getting through this.” And my friends who chose to not go through any more treatment aren’t cowards either. Choosing how you die is probably more courageous than postponing the inevitable.
“If you can get through this, you can do anything!”
A cancer diagnosis isn’t a coming of age story. It’s not a life lesson. It’s not a mark for a future epiphany. Sure, maybe some people learn some things along the way, but it’s a consequence. I don’t think it says much about my resilience because I was running on fumes for months. All I did was wake up and show up to appointments, and half the time, I couldn’t really understand what was going on. I just said yes to everything because I had no fucking clue what else to do.
Living through and with grief doesn’t make me any stronger or better or braver today. I’m still me, but with more scars that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Just because the first “battle” is seemingly over, doesn’t mean there won’t be more. Life is funny that way. It likes to serve things in a platter.
But when I lost more after the cancer, I kept hearing more statements in the nature of “silver lining” and “lessons.” Some positivity to remind me that I’m better off now. That all the losses meant something. It has to, right?
No, I don’t think so. My suffering doesn’t need to be meaningful to be worth living through.
It is what it is. What happened, happened. It doesn’t need to mean anything. And more things will happen for as long as I live. I just hope it’ll be for a long time.