Yes, I called you losers. Before you go getting all worked up about the title of this opinion piece I want you to realize and understand what I’m saying. I’m not calling you losers in the failing-as-a-decent-human sense. I am referring to all of us who are left behind after cancer takes someone we know and love from our lives. I think you would agree that when death occurs it’s commonplace to hear people describe their familial pain and suffering as a consequence of having “lost” someone, right? I bet you’ve heard or read that a person “lost” their [insert platitude] with cancer. This gets my goat, perhaps even more so than battle language. So let’s get a few things straight, shall we?
It’s Not A Competition
Cancer isn’t a race or a game that anyone signs up to compete in. It’s not a competition at all. When cancer happens, people do the best they can with what they have and with what medicine (science) and complimentary therapies have to offer them. Right now, there are still no cures for many cancers, including breast cancer. My God, just the other day I read a comment from someone (who likely meant well, but was certainly uninformed) who declared breast cancer to be one of the “most curable” cancers around these days.
Head * Desk
It troubles me that so many people have this impression and it’s due in large part to all the party-like celebrations that big organizations have created in order to gain support while simultaneously appearing successful at curing cancer – because hey, look at all the survivors! Have you ever been to one of those big events? Seriously, they might as well have Oprah on the stage to say to the crowd, “I’m a survivor! You’re a survivor! We’re all survivors!” Except that’s not true.
There is so much propaganda regarding survival and they endlessly tout the “winning the fight” platitude despite the reality of so many women (and men too) still dying of this disease because there is still NO CURE. Seriously, just do a damn Google search. This isn’t a secret. But I digress…
Dead People Don’t Lose…
When a human being dies of cancer, it’s insulting and a misrepresentation to assert that they “lost” their [insert platitude] with cancer. No, they didn’t lose. The cancer grew beyond control. The treatments stopped working or became unbearable and their options ran out. Why say anything other than the truth? Does it make you feel better?
Just say they died because that’s what happened. Say cancer took them from you because that’s what happened. Say you will miss them for eternity because that’s what you’ll do. Promise to speak up for research because that’s the only way cancer will stop taking our loved ones from us.
If you want to use the word lose or lost, consider using it to describe those of us still living instead. We all lose when someone dies. We lose their brilliance, their gifts, their potential, their beauty and their humanity. We lose the joy and splendor of sharing more time with those we love. We lose the chance to love deeper and longer. We lose the opportunity to share all the milestones we’ve yet to reach with them.
Not one single cancer patient I know of would choose to die, if living were possible. They wouldn’t chose to leave behind heartbroken parents, spouses, children, friends and more. They wouldn’t forsake the lives they’ve so looked forward to and planned for. That’s not how it works. At some point, terminal patients don’t get to chose. Instead, cancer decides and they’re at the mercy of out-of-control cellular mutations. It isn’t a fair fight when it comes to cancer. Remember this the next time you hear of someone’s passing. They didn’t ask for this. They didn’t sign up for cancer. There are no teams keeping score. And they most certainly don’t lose when they die, but we do. We are the losers.
Facts vs. Fiction
Let’s do better for cancer patients and stop saying they lost. Losing implies failure and they did not fail. If anyone failed, it was us, as a society. A society that increasingly neglects the value and importance of science but simultaneously reaping the benefits from science. A society that prefers to sugarcoat, minimize, glorify and glamourize cancer rather than being honest and authentic. A society that would rather keep cancer, sadness, suffering and death in the dark recesses of our consciousness. And once it’s over, once they’re gone, society rushes to declare them warriors and heroes on the frontlines of a battle they “lost.” That’s just plain fiction if you ask me.
Get Real to Get Results
We should be encouraging our communities and government agencies to fund more meaningful, translatable, cancer research. Those of us who are left behind (the real losers), are more powerful than we have yet to realize (I think). Couldn’t we, better than anyone else, be the voice for global progress by telling the truth, even though it’s uncomfortable and often sad? Channeling dollars directly to research and demanding better access to clinical trials is critical to helping shift the focus and improve outcomes.
What if we simply refused to buy the unregulated pink ribbon paraphernalia that serves no purpose and instead began flooding cancer research centers with those millions of dollars spent every year on bedazzled pink everything. Call out big “nonprofits” for not using their donations more effectively and meaningfully. Encourage them to change with the times instead of holding on for dear life to outdated, no longer effective strategies.
We should also be having honest, open discussions about death and dying throughout our lives rather than waiting until death arrives so that it isn’t so taboo, so mysterious or frightening to the point we hide it and then blame the dying once their dead.
Death Is Sacred
My advice to you is to toss all those bullshit platitudes and cliches and forego the fallen-warrior-type descriptives when someone dies and start being honest with our words. Regurgitating these overused, no longer meaningful, phrases manages only to reduce the enormous gut punch that death delivers. Death deserves so much more than standardized acronyms (RIP) or simplifications (you could get hit by a bus tomorrow). Death is sacred. We’ve become so lazy with our words. Pick them carefully. It’s a privilege to honor the people we lose to cancer. Remember, it’s not a competition. It wasn’t even a fair fight.
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