Essay: Time to give up the ‘fighting’ metaphor

A little over a year ago, just after Ted Kennedy was diagnosed with brain cancer, I wrote a column suggesting that we stop urging him to “Fight, Ted, fight!” and instead grant him the freedom to live as fully as possible with his cancer until the end, which, sadly, came earlier this week.The fighting metaphor, especially when applied to cancer, drives me nuts. Cancer is not a war or a football game. It’s an involuntary dance with a partner you didn’t choose. The fighting metaphor is insidious because it not so subtly implies that if you fight, you can “win.” And that if the cancer takes your life, if you “lose,” it is to some extent your fault. It’s not only patients and their loved ones who fall into this battlefield thinking, but doctors, too, who often see death as a failure. Their failure.

‘I . . . feel like a man again’

Testosterone was once off limits for men with prostate cancer. Things are changing. 

Manny Hamelburg, 68, a retired businessman from Holbrook, had fought prostate cancer for years. First he tried radiation, then a drug with side effects that nearly killed him, and finally Lupron, a drug that blocks production of testosterone, the hormone that can fuel prostate cancer.

‘Fighting’ isn’t how you deal with cancer

Fight, Ted, fight!”

This mantra, chanted over and over to give moral support to Senator Edward M. Kennedy as he faces brain cancer, drives me nuts. The caring behind it is wonderful; the metaphor is not.

Fitness plays a key role in battling cancer

So. You get the worst news of your life: Cancer.

You dutifully sign on for chemo, surgery, radiation. You also vow to eat better. More fruits and veggies, less saturated fat — all that good stuff should tip the odds in your favor, right?

The balance between life and disease

Like many other Americans lately, I’ve found myself thinking hard about – and personally identifying with – the dilemma faced by Elizabeth Edwards and her husband, John, the former senator and would-be president.

How to cope with shock of cancer diagnosis

Late last fall, Dartmouth Medical School researchers reported in the journal Cancer that all newly diagnosed breast cancer patients in their study experienced at least some level of distress, and nearly half met the criteria for a significant psychiatric disorder such as major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Well, duh!

Sunscreen Isn’t Perfect, But Still Worth Using

“Any bad, blistering burn in your lifetime increases your risk for skin cancer,”      — Dr. John Williams, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

For years now, I have been, shall we say, a rather haphazard sunscreen user. And I’m not alone —  a fact that makes dermatologists apoplectic.

Getting Warmer in Bid to Kill Tumors

A year ago, when Gayle Driscoll’s, breast cancer recurred on her skin, the 63-year-old retired teacher from Barnstable tried an experimental treatment that gave her radiation therapy some extra oomph . Every time she lay down for radiation treatment on her chest, her tumors were also heated with a special device that emitted radio frequency waves. After six weeks, the skin tumors were gone.

Optimism isn’t the cure

Nancy Achin Audesse, 45, knows a thing or two about serious illness and optimism.  

On the Verge of an Ovarian Cancer Test

Judith Rubel, a former marketing specialist for a Boston-area hospital, seemed an unlikely candidate for ovarian cancer. She was healthy, fit and slim. She had no family history of the disease. Besides, ovarian cancer was pretty rare — only one woman out of 59 gets the disease over a lifetime.“It never occurred to me that it could happen to me,” Rubel, who now lives in Old Saybrook, Conn., said last week.