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.