World Cancer Day: military rhetoric about cancer


On today’s World Cancer Day we would like to share with you again a post we published just a few weeks ago. It’s about the language choices we make when we talk about cancer.



“If I had cancer…” Oh yes, it is always so easy to talk when something does not affect us directly.

Language can be so powerful. We all know that. This is why we should really think twice before choosing one word instead of another one.

There is one thing that this interesting article by the Guardian brought to my mind, namely the language we all use when we speak about cancer.

Just think about it. I did it, you did it, media do it all the time, we all have done it, at least once. I am talking about using military language when referring to people dealing with cancer. So it is always a struggling “battle”, someone always “loses his fight” against it, and they are always “warriors”.

For example, take a look at this public announcement service made by Cancer Research UK.

Oh yes, I do get why society adopted this kind of language. We just thought we would be more supporting this way. We thought it was going to be something positive, that would help cancer patients cope harder. But what happens when cancer is just too strong? When there is no chance of surviving? We can fight as hard as we can, we can struggle for years, but still, if cancer takes over, there is really nothing we can do about it. And being told that we are “losing our battle” just doesn’t make any sense, nor help at all. Keeping using this kind of language won’t do any good. Just think how patients may end up feeling personally responsible if their condition deteriorates, just because they feel they didn’t fight hard enough, they weren’t strong enough. Does that sound fair to you?

And what is cancer after all? Do you think it’s fair enough to simplify it all by referring to cancer when there are so many different types of tumour? Cancer itself does not even exist. But this would take another whole article to talk about, so let’s just put it aside – at least for now.

What we shouldn’t put away for good is the awareness that, sometimes, there are things in life that we cannot control, like those tumours that can’t be treated. Why can’t we just accept it? And by accepting it, I certainly do not mean giving up. Giving up on any kind of cure known, and most of all, on enjoying every single moment and thing that brings us a tiny sparkle of joy, and makes it all, at least, a little less frustrating. Because at the end of the day, this is what’s going to really matter: those random seconds in our life when we even forget we are ill.

By Sabina Grixoni

Editor and Social Media Strategist

Communication Trainee at TermCoord