Long ago I reposted or tweeted some official-medical journal type article about how the warrior language can be damaging for many cancer patients. This was a report about a study on the issue, NOT some random blogger opinion piece. I got some comment or push back from someone, protesting that many folks found it helpful to be warriors, and they were tired of getting criticized for it.
It was weird because 1) I did not write the article, much less conduct the study and 2) I was merely posting it, not criticizing, and I did not find the language of the article to criticize the folks who do use the warrior language. Even weirder, it seemed like the victor claiming to be the persecuted to me—the warrior language is pretty pervasive and accepted as the social norm. Sure lots of bloggers post about their discomfort with the term, but it has not resulted in some cultural shift in which the word is used less, and folks identifying as warriors are in the minority. Cancer warrior is a commonly used term in society, in the media, in the Livestrong culture that still persists today.
The exchange with the person ended with the person saying something along the lines of if I don’t like it, don’t use it, but don’t criticize those who do. This was the weirdest part of all. Why? Because I don’t use it (so I did not need to be advised to not use it), but that NEVER stops others from using it to describe me against my will.
I’d largely forgotten about the exchange (I cannot even remember when it happened, certainly within the past year, and really have no idea which social media platform it all occurred on). But perusing some Facebook posts tonight, on National Cancer Survivors Day, I saw a few posts by bloggers who are not fans of the day, particularly some metastatic bloggers. I was shocked to read some comments on one post in which commenters flat out told the blogger she was indeed a survivor—any day she gets up she is a survivor.
After all this time since my cancer experience began, I am still shocked at how disrespectful people can be. How dare this person force an identity on another, when the blogger, a woman with metastatic cancer, does not self-identify as a survivor? The gall of one person infringing on the wishes of another never ceases to amaze me.
I wish to be clear here. It is true, I do not like terms such as warrior and survivor and do not use them to describe myself. I have very specific reasons why I dislike them. If others wish to use them, fine. Everyone’s preference should be honored.
But I expect reciprocity—stop calling me words I will not use about myself. Everyone deserves this simple act of respect.
Addendum: Please know that I am speaking about ANY time someone labels me (or others) survivor against our wishes. Even if it is done gently, not in an attacking manner, it still is dismissive and patronizing.
Perhaps the reason I am so edgy about this is that when someone calls me warrior or survivor against my express wishes, it makes me think that they think I do not know my own mind. I do. The best analogy I can give is this: I never wanted children. From my teen years until my mid-30s, people would tell me–a grown woman–that I’d probably change my mind. I never did, I’m very happy with my choice. What makes people think they know me better than I know myself? I put up with it for too long on the not having children issue. I’ll be damned if I put up with it in CancerLand.