Language is powerful. Words have meaning, and what we speak has the ability to alter how we experience the journey.
Fight language is familiar
My cancer journey began in May 2016. It has certainly been a roller coaster ride. There have been ups and downs, twists and turns, and even a few loops where it felt like I was completely upside down. One of the lessons I have learned is that how we speak matters. Language is powerful. Words have meaning, and what we speak has the ability to alter how we experience the journey.
People often speak of “fighting cancer.” There is something empowering about envisioning ourselves going to battle against the cancer cells seeking to destroy our bodies. When chemo day rolls around, the image of fighting can help us muster that last ounce of strength so we can make it to the appointment.
Family and friends often speak about me “fighting the good fight.” They marvel at how I continued to work five years post-diagnosis while undergoing treatment. Once out on disability, the comments spoke of how I continued the “fight” and found ways to build community and work for the common good.
What if we talked about Living?
I understand the fight language. It fits our culture and communicates one piece of a cancer patient’s journey. A part of me resists (even outright rejects) the idea of “fighting cancer” and prefers to talk about “living with cancer.” It may sound like semantics, simple word games, but for me, the change in language unleashes a new way of living. Let me share why the change from fighting to living is so significant.
In all fights, there are winners and losers. When we speak about someone fighting cancer, what are we saying about them if cancer wins? This may sound trivial to you, but it is a real concern for me. All things being equal and barring a miracle; cancer will be the thing that takes my life. Yes, I am doing everything within my power to postpone, delay, and even avoid that reality. Yet, I am faced with the truth that cancer will most likely win.
Life to the Full
I made peace with that reality seven years ago when first diagnosed. It was not an easy process. Yet it freed me for what lay ahead. I resolved to live each day, seeking to be aware of the Spirit’s presence. Wasting a single day was not an option. I set out to live life to the fullest.
Jesus talks about life to the full. Early in his teaching, he says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NASB) Abundant life, abundant living no matter the circumstances in our lives.
As I think about seeking to live life abundant with cancer, I am reminded of the myriad of lessons learned over the past seven years. I have learned to slow down and celebrate small victories. Looking around, I have been blessed to truly see those who surround me. Seeing their need and hearing their story has helped me become a better person. Seven years of living with cancer has taught me more about faith, hope, trust, and peace than I could have learned in five healthy lifetimes.
Learning to be at peace with the ebbs and flows of the journey has not been easy. I long to hear words such as remission and cure. Thinking of starting another round of chemotherapy fills me with a sense of dread. Yet I have learned it is possible to live a life filled with hope, joy, and peace with cancer. Life to the fullest is possible even amidst tremendous struggles.
All of Life is Gift – Celebrate!
A focus on living well with cancer opens the door for nothing but celebration. Celebration of my life and how the Spirit used it to speak into the lives of others. There will be no need to speak of me “losing a battle or losing my fight” against cancer. Those who gather to celebrate my life can simply cheer a life well lived. In a very real way, this would be my final dismissal of cancer as nothing more than background noise.
Imagine how spirits would change if instead of saying, “he fought the good fight (but cancer won in the end),” the focus was on how someone made the most of life.
I suffer no illusions. There is little chance my choice of language will catch on and replace the fight words we speak towards cancer. Fighting is often where we begin a cancer journey, just know there may be another way to think about navigating the journey.
Find Your Language
My language might not be your language. What is important is that you figure out what works for you. As you and those surrounding you speak about your cancer, what words fill you with hope and a sense of future? What themes or ideas seem to drag you down? Words have power, language matters. Find what works for you and begin to encourage those around you to use the language that fills you with strength, joy, and hope.
As you walk alongside someone traveling a cancer (or any other) journey, ask them how they want to talk about it. What language do they find helpful and hopeful. Chances are pretty good you might learn something about life if you listened to them talk about the importance of language.
May you be abundantly aware of the Spirit alive, well, and at work in your world.