Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The language we choose for those confronting cancer: be respectful

Language is a powerful thing. Many recent articles and blog post write of the shift from using  military metaphors when illustrating one's journey, rather to one of managing the journey and confronting the challenges.

Have been managing cancer in our household since August, I understand the shift. For those who confront cancer learn much about themselves. It isn't a battle. We should not see cancer cells as separate from ourselves, for it is our bodies that produce these out of control cancer cells.
We don't know the cause. We don't always know the cure. Sometimes surgery is all that we need do to remove the cells. Sometimes they grow back elsewhere. This is the mystery of cancer.

You and your oncologist determine treatment trajectory and treatment plans. It is highly dependent upon your stage (Cancer tests determine if you are Stages I, II, III, or IV.) One of my clients, with leukemia, chose to eschew chemotherapy, as he wanted a better quality of life. His treatment team gave him 4 -6 months to live. He has chosen to live his last months well, although he is at month 5 and seems positive and living a fairly 'normal' life. He has decided not to confront his cancer any more, as the side effects were terrible. Friends and family have respected his choice.

Pain need not be a symptom for those with cancer, but it does happen. Many of my senior clients refuse pain meds, in the spirit of being tough and manly. I've recommended they take pain meds before a change in catheter, for example, but most deny the need. There is no need, for the most part, to be in pain in this day and age. The myths of pain management prevail:

Lisa writes:
Oxycodone couldn’t keep the pain under control so yesterday I had to combine it with a Fentanyl patch. This duo is definitely helping me more; I’m still in pain but it’s more manageable today (Sunday). Each of these patches lasts for 72 hours and will deliver a constant stream of medication to me. I am pretty much bedridden.

I have tried to honour those publicly confronting cancer, by adapting to their differing metaphors, or no metaphors at all. We all die. Dying from cancer doesn't mean you are a loser, which means we cannot lose a battle with cancer. For we are not losers. We have something to learn from each challenge we face in our lives.

This is the offending Op Ed piece, its rebuttal by Lisa's brother follows.

"Heroic Measures"

LISA BONCHEK ADAMS has spent the last seven years in a fierce and very public cage fight with death. Since a mammogram detected the first toxic seeds of cancer in her left breast when she was 37, she has blogged and tweeted copiously about her contest with the advancing disease. She has tweeted through morphine haze and radiation burn. Even by contemporary standards of social-media self-disclosure, she is a phenomenon.

Different Ways of Confronting Death

I am writing in response to Bill Keller’s Jan. 13 column, “Heroic Measures,” about my sister, Lisa Bonchek Adams. Lisa has not, despite what Mr. Keller suggests, treated her terminal disease “as a military campaign.” She has often written against military metaphors in cancer treatment.

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