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.

In truth, cancer doesn’t care whether you fight or not, whether you win or not. It’s simply there, just like all the other horrible, debilitating, scary, painful, life-wrecking chronic diseases that millions of Americans deal with every day.

It’s time to grow up about this whole fighting thing. Time to give up our so American, so na