I’m Giving Up the Fight Against Cancer. And You Should Too.

Photo on 3-3-14 at 2.20 PM #3What I am about to tell you may not be very popular.  And truth be told, I’ve been hesitant to write about it for fear of offending or insulting others.  But there’s that word again…FEAR.   I no longer want fear to dictate my life or my decisions or my desires to share my personal belief system with the world.  Especially a belief system that seems to be working some seriously great things in my life.

So here it goes.

Are you ready?

I have given up the fight with cancer.

I refuse to engage in the struggle any longer.

The battle is futile and the war on cancer is a waste of my time, my energy and my talents.

Allow me to explain.

Our society has embraced one way and one way only to discuss cancer – via the language of war.  Those of us who have been diagnosed with cancer must “fight” and “combat” our disease.  We hope to “win the war” against cancer.  Some of us may “survive” while others may “lose the battle.”

Those of us with cancer are called “heroes.”  We are “brave” and “courageous.”  We are “warriors” against this “enemy.”

But here’s the thing.  I wasn’t called to military service.  I didn’t enlist for any war.  I wasn’t drafted.  I’m not a hero.  I’m not brave.  I was simply diagnosed with a disease and offered a few options of treatment.  I chose one and went with it.  Nothing more than that.

I have cancer. I have a disease that terrifies the heck out of people.  And we have no other way to talk about it.  Hey, I’m not blaming anyone.  This is a world-wide phenomenon.

I simply wonder if we might be going about this the wrong way.  Is there an alternative way to talk about cancer?  Can we choose language that fosters a kinder, gentler, softer way of being?

I find that when I get angry, when I get worked up about something, when I prepare to engage in a fight, my body tenses up and I become stressed. And stress leads to a lowered immune system.  And a lowered immune system is the last thing a person with cancer needs.

When I’m worked up I also become more scattered, more erratic and less productive.  I am apt to give into pessimistic thinking and engage in unhealthy behaviors (overeating, overspending, procrastination, picking fights).  I make myself miserable and the people around me miserable.  And that is no way for a body to heal.

And here’s another thing…my cancer didn’t appear out of thin air.  My body created this cancer.  A few errant cells in my colon went a bit haywire and decided to take a whacky field trip to some other areas of my body.  Am I supposed to get pissed at myself?  Am I supposed be angry with my own body for what it has done?   I refuse to hate any part of myself – even a few naughty microscopic cells.

Whenever we wage war on something, we give it power.  We build up this perceived enemy and perpetuate feelings of hatred and anger and vitriol.  Cancer doesn’t need any more power than it already has.  If we decide to fight, cancer has no choice but to fight back.

What language can we use to embrace this disease and move beyond it?  How can we accept it into our lives, co-exist with it while still working toward a cure?  Kris Carr, who was diagnosed with a slow-growing, inoperable and untreatable form of cancer over 11 years ago calls herself a cancer “thriver.”  I love that.  Talk about spinning a negative into a positive.

I simply tell people that I am “living with cancer.”  That statement has a deep meaning for me.  I have never felt more alive, more appreciative of life, more blessed with the gifts of this world than I have since my diagnosis over 9 months ago.  In some ways I feel like I am truly living for the first time in my life.

I challenge you to think about alternative ways to speak about cancer or any disease or illness.  I understand that this is a difficult proposition.  It’s unorthodox.  It’s counter-cultural.  It’s definitely the road less-traveled.

But I tell you…it’s a beautiful way to live.   And I feel like I’m only just beginning to learn.  So much more to come, my friends.

33 thoughts on “I’m Giving Up the Fight Against Cancer. And You Should Too.

    • Oh a huge yes to all of this. No MORE WAR, I’ve danced with cancer twice now, The first round took my left breast, the second round my ovaries and uterus…and that was because I got uterine cancer from the tamoxifen that I took for breast cancer. I absolutely refuse to “fight”. What, fight this body? This beautiful tender animal? See those errant adolescent cells of mine that strayed as evil? The war that is being waged is a war on life on this planet…and it’s big pharma and big medicine and the boys with the big guns that want it all.

      • Nancy O'Donnell

        Bravo! I,too, felt this incredible tenderness towards my body after the diagnosis of follicular dendritic sarcoma, The last thing I also wanted to do was to go to cancer groups where I thought canser would be the main focus rather than how to live a more riotous life. I go tomorrow for yet another Cat Scan (every 6 months), so it was good to remember

    • Well – said and food for thought. I also encourage you to remove the word “my” when referring to the cancer. Refuse to own it. I wish you long life!

    • Hi Tiffany:
      I love your blog and your attitude. I’m coming up on 22 years since my breast cancer surgery.
      I never fought my cancer either…but I was able to use my life’s philosophy to turn my diagnosis into a program that has helped hundreds of others find meaning and purpose after theirs.
      An example of something related to what you write – Susan Love, an exemplary breast cancer doc in many ways calls her program “an Army of Women”. I wrote her a letter telling her that I was very unhappy with the militarization of cancer and wouldn’t join ANY army! I didn’t get an answer.
      Keep up your great writing and your fabulous attitude!

  1. Tiffany….I get it! I totally get it! And I agree! There comes a point where we take a deep cleansing breath and we move forward. It doesn’t mean that we will ever forget how cancer has impacted us and our families…it just means that we no longer want to have a single ounce, not one little iota, of negativity inside of us. Probably one of the hardest things to do in the whole process. If people choose to disagree with you, it’s not because you are wrong in your thinking…just that everyone needs to deal with their illness in a way that works for them. Thanks for being open, honest and vulnerable – it’s important for us all to remember that it’s okay to do that. <3

  2. OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Tiffany you are amazing and so on to something. I just read your post to my wife and tears welled up in me because I – we – completely agree. There is no enemy. Love heals. Hate destroys. How can you “love” something you are “fighting” and at “war” with. I am going to do my part to make sure this post goes viral around the world – and back again.

    Blessings to you and your lovefest with your body and the “cancer”.

  3. WOW i love this post. I don’t have cancer but I just love your attitude towards life and i think you are REALLY inspiring – found you through b-school :) hope you are having a super awesome day that includes some dancing!

  4. As one with cancer, I really appreciated the post. The funny thing is, people are more scared, sad, or upset than I am. I feel like telling them: hey, I have accepted this is part of my life. I have moved on, and it is time for you to do so as well.

    • You are so right about that Katherine. I have found that my cancer takes a greaer emotional toll on my family and close friends than on me. I know how I feel every day. I live with it. The chgllenge for me is to remain positive and embrace each day and not get dragged down into the fears and negative energy of those around me.

  5. It IS all about the attitude, isn’t it? I’m a recent follower of your blog (since the boys of GBS reposted it) and it now has become a bit of a reference tool for me; both your posts as the one dealing directly with it and Rick’s as the support system. My mom has just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and we have already used the “war”, “fight” and “warrior” references. I like the idea of what you’re saying here and it IS a total change of mindset. I’m trying to be a cheerleader without overdoing it, and a listener when she needs to tell me that she’s afraid. It’s scary. REALLY scary. But the way that you both have lived through this is both an inspiration and a template for me. So thank you.

    And while I’m here – can’t wait for the book!!

  6. Sue Staropoli

    Yeah, Tiffany! You really ARE onto something that is so important for us all – whether we’re dealing with cancer or just moving through life with the challenges that come our way! Thanks for sharing your story and this counter-cultural message so clearly, insightfully and boldly! Love IS the ultimate healer! So why waste our energy on fear and fighting anything? Thanks for being you!

    • Sandy Herritt Rosenthal

      You absolutely continue to amaze me with your brilliant thinking , and then to write it so well…I wrote previously that you turn the negative into a positive… That is a very difficult thing for some people to do but repetition is how we learn, and I do believe that is one of your missions to lead by example…. You are a BLESSING, Tiffany…

  7. NancyODonnell

    Love your essay. I also feel the exact same way after getting a diagnosis. I love my body. Sometimes I’ve loved chaos and that’s exactly happened with a few cells in my body a couple years ago. The whole survivor of, struggle with, valiant fight against a physical condition just doesn’t pertain to my life. I’ve been anti war all my life. Suddenly I’m going to declare the war on cancer? Don’t think so.

  8. joyemorris@yahoo.com

    Thank you for this. I have had difficulty with the “fight,” “battle,” “war,” etc. But I didn’t have any other words, thanks to the way society has painted this disease. Thank you, Tiffany, for helping paint a different, and far more colorful and peaceful picture!

  9. Barbara Shields

    Once again you have the most beautiful way of expressing yourself. You address head on a tough topic and lovingly, with wisdom, give us all another gift- new insight, new vocabulary, and new thoughts! I SO accept your gift and will apply it to daily living. You are generous beyond words and I thank you!!

  10. Thank you. Ever since I had cancer I have had a small but insidious sense of fear and its social counterpart–shame–about just about every abnormal thing that has arisen in my life. What a breath of fresh air to read such a clearly articulated alternative. Thank you.

  11. No matter the language, I love reading your posts and pondering your ideas. I have had a swift evolution with the language of cancer myself. There are times I have thought as you do now… and other times, usually when I see someone struggle so hard to stay here, present with family and friends in an earthly way, but really, truly struggling… that I get really, really angry with the disease and sling mud (and sh*t) at it. It’s those times that I most feel like donning my armor, grabbing my sword and shield, and taking to the field. I think there are times we feel gentle with the cancer, but other times when we feel as fierce as Artemis… the greek goddess of myth. Thank you for being willing to explore all of these issues. I am sorry you were brought into Cancer World, but so glad our paths have crossed. You are a great teacher!

  12. Kirsten Skeehan

    I use the term dancing with cancer. In dancing, you engage your partner, you hold your own space and you keep moving. I’m 20 years out from breast cancer diagnosis and 1 year out from uterine cancer diagnosis. I continue to dance with those cancers as I continue to dance with life.

  13. Tiffany, YES!!!! You are so in my head with this wonderful approach and perspective. Thank you so much for giving it life and expressing it so beautifully!! I have a recent diagnosis (not cancer but late stage lyme) and I have been simmering on believing this deep down. I am so grateful ti have it named out loud and gathering the momentum of the truth you are so beautiful expressing. I saw your winning video and just want to dance with you girl !! Ye-ah!!

  14. Well said. What a great attitude you have, Tiffany. I wish you well. Thanks!

  15. I’m cancer free today!

    I’m feeling so blessed and full of love… I also share your thoughts about Cancer. Letting go your fears and open yourself to healing and Love…it is not a fight it’s surrendering to open yourself to love!

  16. Amani Denholm

    So beautifully said. I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know you, I love you!

  17. There are many other things like cancer that we are told we must “fight” too, including getting old, dementia (my mum is getting that, but sadly not in a good way) etc. I too often think “why do we HAVE to fight it, maybe enjoying what we have for a short time is better than not ejoying a lomnger time?”

    Someone I know at church has cancer, and has been having chemo, but recently, when things got worse, was offered surgery. She too said “no”, and I 100% respect her decision to choose to have the chance to spend her last days rather more pleasantly, rather than having a tiny bit more time, but spent recovering from major surgery.

    The problem Western Society has is that death is a big taboo, we don’t talk about it. Which is odd, because it’s the one thing that WILL happen to us all. I’m nominally “healthy”, but I know that I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, or could live until I’m 90… so it’s quite possible that you could out-live many of us “healthies”!

    Yes, I have a great respect for people like you, facing an uncertain future, but doing it on YOUR terms. Enjoy the days / weeks / months / years you have left! With your attitude, I’m sure you WILL enjoy it!

  18. […] happens when we choose vulnerability and love over anger and hatred. In a startlingly titled piece, Tiffany blogs why “I’m Giving Up the Fight Against Cancer. And You Should Too”. (Tnx, Gabe) More […]

  19. I am a cancer thriver! I completely gel with your blog. You put into words so clearly the thought processes I have been experiencing lately. If this way of thinking spread like cancer it could bring so much joy throughout the world.

  20. Really good to know there are people out there who are responding to cancer the same way as I am. I welcomed the cancer I got three years ago and gave it no power and it’s just sitting there wondering what to do.
    Meanwhile I carry on with my life giving it no thought whatsoever. Its confused and wants to go away now since I’m no fun!
    Thanks to all of you

  21. YES. Well done for saying this – I know how hard it is to challenge popular cultural narratives of illness. I actually wrote something similar, but from the viewpoint of chronic illness, arguing that I am not heroic.

    http://tanyamarlow.com/i-am-not-heroic/

    Fab post- thanks for writing.

  22. Wow, this is such a powerful blog. And all power to you. My husband had pancreatic cancer and it killed him 5 years ago. He refused to talk about fighting cancer, he refused to accept it when people told him he was brave, or courageous. He used to explain that it was only brave if you had a choice; he had no choice. Ironically he was a fighter pilot in the RAF and was given the MBE before he died for ‘outstanding leadership and courage’, so he actually knew what he was talking about. He died of cancer but he didn’t lose the fight, it didn’t beat him. He died. And now , you wonderful woman, go and live! Xxxxx

  23. Hi Tiffany,
    I respectfully agree and disagree with your post. I too am a cancer thriver and I like that wording. When I think about the word fighting, I think about it in the context of a competition, not a war. The athletes battle for first place at the Olympics, or the Battle of the stars and the positive about this word ‘fighting’ in this context is that it brings out the best of you, requires the greatest focus, skills, talents, energy that there is to ‘win’. A person with COPD or asthma fights for their breathe, they are battling against something to be able to keep breathing. I was an oncology social worker in part of my career and I saw so many people fight for their last breath. So in that context, I see myself fighting for life as a good thing. Our body fights infections, it battles to get back to a status of healthy. My particular cancer is likely based on a significant genetic disposition where I don’t have the DNA to repair the cells like everyone else does so I have to fight to keep my immunity system as powerful and strong as it can so I can have energy through the day to keep going. I battle fatigue by swimming so that I increase the amount of energy in my body (this is counterintuitive and it is paying off). So I see the words battle, fighting, winning in a non-war context and thus I respectfully say that it’s how we use the words and what is behind it that makes the difference.
    I agree with you fully. I keep telling people (also in my blog Journey with Cancer and my posts on Agnes Vrieze-Health) that I am grateful to be journeying with cancer. It has been by far the best time of my life in so many ways. Like you, I have wanted others not to live in a place of fear about this and thus when I was diagnosed I was very vocal about my journey so that others could embrace this thing called cancer with far less stigma, less aggressive wording and a good dose of truth. I have wanted to take fear away and replace it with hope because that is what I am all about. And apparently, you are too! Go girl. We are fellow thrivers and that is awesome. All the best to you!

  24. Johanna Rehbaum

    Like so many others, I agree. I am a three time cancer survivor (Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and breast cancer twice, all before age 30), and all those times, the word “fight” never played a role in my recovery. I approach everything else with positive language, so why would I approach this most important time with such negative language? (Besides, of course, my legitimate feelings of frustration about the whole thing!)

    I also wanted to direct you to this interview with Eve Ensler, who has a similar approach to enduring cervical (I think) cancer. She talks about this later in the interview, but the whole thing is good, so I commend it to you: http://www.onbeing.org/program/a-second-wind/6050

    And in case you’re interested, I have a blog about my own cancer journey, though it has morphed a bit since it became less the center of my life. It is here: pastorjohanna.blogspot.com

  25. I say that “I am blessed with cancer”. It might be a bad thing, but it’s also good. It’s a part of me but its not all of me, and I’m a better person because of it. You might not want to fight it anymore but you do need to dominate it, because if you don’t it will run your life. Don’t let it control you, you tell cancer this “if we’re gonna live together, then there’s going to be some ground rules and I’m in charge, not you.” -6 years of cancer blessed experiences

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