Cancer doesn’t make you brave

We need to change the language that we use to talk about cancer.

Brave. Fight. Survivor. Battle.

The language of cancer is the language of war.

But for everyone who won their battle, someone lost.

For every survivor, there’s someone who didn’t make it.

The implication being the ones who didn’t win their battle didn’t fight hard enough. They didn’t want it badly enough. They weren’t brave enough to go the extra mile to be the victor. And I call bullshit on that.

Cancer is an unfair fight. It is so much more than David versus Goliath, of the underdog taking on someone bigger, stronger and more powerful.

We’re flying blind. Sure, we have modern medicine and doctors and seriously effective drugs, but none of these things can guarantee a win. They up your chances yes, but won’t deliver a definitive cure. That’s why cancer patients go into remission or are classified as cancer-free. Never cured. Doctors will guide you through the woods as best they can, but sometimes a path just won’t open up.

Recently my oncologist asked if I wanted to know my numbers of a recurrence. Of course I said yes. I thought I’d be high 90’s of making the 10 year mark, turns out I’m mid-80’s. So even with two surgeries, five months of chemo, five weeks of radiation and the five years of hormone therapy I’ve got to look forward to, there’s a chance they might have missed something, a shitty little cell lying in wait to strike again before my 42nd birthday.

It’s bullshit.

I have done everything I can to prevent this from happening ever again. Everything my breast surgeon, oncologist, genetic counselor, radiation oncologist and plastic surgeon advised me to do. They all agreed it was my best chance and I took it. I have given this my all; my time, my money, my energy but it might not be enough and this terrifies me.

Which is why we need to ditch the word brave when it comes to cancer, just like we need to lose the euphemistic journey.

I’m no braver than anyone else reading this, yet I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me I am. Why? I’m just doing what I need to do to ensure I live a long healthy life, one where I get to start a family with The Boy, reach the stage where we’re an embarrassment to our children, make fun of him when he starts to go bald and be thankful that the reconstruction means my boobs don’t drop to my knees.

Being labelled as brave makes you feel guilty for feeling fear. That you’re not living up to expectations.

Having cancer inspires the opposite of bravery. It instills fear, terror and the desire to run far, far away, stick your head in the sand and pretend nothing is wrong so you won’t have to face it.

I did not choose to have cancer to prove my balls are bigger than yours. This was never a goal to be conquered, this was not my Everest. I didn’t dream of it, train for it, strive to overcome it.

I am not brave. I am scared.

And that’s OK, I’m allowed to be.

3 thoughts on “Cancer doesn’t make you brave

  1. Last year, I lost one friend (age 38) to Lymphoma, and another (age 55) to throat cancer. This year, I have one friend working through breast cancer (age 34) and another dealing with both uterine and brain cancer simultaneously (age 40). My mother has been going through skin cancer treatments for the last two years, and I appreciate this article, so much. You called it like it is. Thank you.


    1. Agreed. It’s chance, poor luck, who knows. There is no bravery, treatment is the option one takes to excise a killer. It’s not brave, it’s the option.
      For me: my breasts have done the bulk of their work both sexual and life-giving so I look at it as better than losing my sight, a limb…so many things.
      Then I come to the reality of so much medicine in America (and I’m at a premier Manhattan breast center!)
      So many mistakes from hospitals/staff already, the worst being they almost took off wrong breast as the order was, they were going to inject the radioisotopes for sinodal dye test (lymph) into healthy breast! (So glad I have a photo of that or no one would ever believe me). I almost let them so that my husband could retire on this primary school mistake.
      Pre-mastectomy I read all I could until the doctor and husband said to stop. Shouldn’t have listened as I didn’t know/wasn’t told of the nerve damage problems, just potential lymph edema.

      I am 2 weeks post-mastectomy (big ass tumor, latest stage 2 probably, lymphs gone; idc, no bracs connection).
      Nerve pain…maybe permanent damage, stupid other pain from an expander (doing reconstruction for everyone else and not myself–already mistake number…). Worst migraine of my life yesterday so couldn’t see surgeon with full pathology report.
      I may play the numbers regarding chemo. If surgery/recovery is this bad, not sure I want the rest of it. And I have a fantastic husband and a daughter (only child) who just received her appointment to the US Naval Academy. All good stuff to look forward to. Just can’t do the chronic sick, had a good (enough) life. If it’s about quality, I covered that a while back.

      Sorry this happened to you at your age (I mean this).

      Again, thanks for being about no battle bullshit…And not sure about Australia, but in America it’s all about the pink. How I have grown to hate pink, even though my daughter’s infant nickname was Pinky because she was so peaches and creamy pink complected. Stupid disease, stupid pink. Hah.


      1. Hi Shelly,
        So sorry to hear about your terrible surgery experiences, it just makes what is already a shit situation so much worse.
        I’m now four months post mastectomy and reconstruction. I’m sad that I’ll never be able to breastfeed and even though they don’t feel like mine yet, I can now look in the mirror naked and not cringe. I had direct implants and my surgeon did a brilliant job.
        Choosing not to do chemo is brave, but you need to make the choice that’s right for you.
        It’s all about the pink here. October is breast cancer awareness month, not sure how I’ll feel about it when it rolls around, but hopefully it won’t remove all my love for pink. I’ve always been a sucker for a bold, bright, shocking Schiaparelli pink!


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