Free Remedial Journalism Lesson Here!

OK, I HATE that I noticed this mere minutes after learning of Alan Rickman’s death. I even hated making a small note on Facebook about the language surrounding David Bowie’s death:

I didn’t want to gripe about language so soon after ‪#‎DavidBowie‘s death. But, damn, one UK headline I saw actually said Bowie “lost” his battle to cancer.

Now, it’s bad enough that the people behind the official Facebook announcement used regrettable language about his “courageous battle”, but at least they did not say lose. I cannot blame the media for using “courageous battle” when it was part of the official announcement. But putting “lose” in there–for fuck’s sake!

As I’ve said MANY times I just don’t even buy into this whole battle structure. But if I were to go with that flow for a moment, and concede that perhaps Bowie was framing the last months of his life with cancer as a battle…who in their right mind would say he lost? He released this album–kind of made it all like his art….seems to me he did his death on his own terms. Hardly a loss!

I mean, Bowie just seemed so alien, such an Artist with a capital “A”, that bringing up the old CancerLand semantics quibble seemed silly, petty, small.

But this morning I’m seeing that Rickman “suffered” from cancer, while Bowie “courageously battled” cancer. What the hell? Who is writing this? What idiot editor is approving this?

Why does everything have to be sooooo dramatic?! Cancer is dramatic enough with all the hair loss, fear, vomiting, fear, pain, fear…you follow me. Why do we have to put this dramatic framework around it? Why can the media not just say simply: “had cancer”, “died of cancer”, or “was treated for cancer for the past x number of months”? Why all the drama, drama, drama!

Of course, I have to cool my outrage at the journalists a little. I realize that some of these phrases are taken straight from official announcements—by family members or PR people—so they are merely quoting these awful phrases.

So I guess my bigger issue is with the way society on the whole talks about cancer. We need a BIG overhaul, not in how we talk about cancer—but how we view it, how we think about it. Instead of people getting all riled up, like they do with “politically correct” phrases—think about WHY these phrases are insulting. If there is an understanding of why words like “suffer” and “lose the battle” are hurtful, well, it SHOULD follow that better word or phrase selection would be easier, no? In other words, rather than having cancer patients provide a handy dandy list of “acceptable” phrases for journalists and others to regurgitate, if a little empathy was in practice—maybe people could figure it out for themselves. THINK, people!

Harsh? I don’t give a shit today.

Yes, the issue is with society as a whole, how we think about cancer. But as we tend to pick up phrases from media and pop culture, journalists, and heck, TV sitcom writers could lead the way here. Stop using the fucking battle language, or words like suffer!!

I’m offering free training to change the way y’all think about cancer, in the hopes that your writing about the latest celebrity cancer death will improve. Simple, don’t even have to enroll or sign up.

Just read any post on this fucking blog!!

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

22 thoughts on “Free Remedial Journalism Lesson Here!”

  1. I’m with you on overhauling the battle language. The other thing that bothers me about both of the announcements of these artists deaths is that they didn’t specify initially what type of cancer, which makes a huge difference in the public understanding of the disease. (Eventually it was noted that Bowie had liver cancer. I have yet to see what type Rickman had.) Not all cancer is deadly, and it helps to know which ones are so we can shed more light on those as individual diseases and stop freaking everyone out with the umbrella word “cancer.”

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    1. Oh really — liver cancer? Hadn’t heard! I admit, I have mixed feelings about the simple “cancer”, without specification as to what kind, in these announcements. I just figured I was being too curious.Seemed like these guys wanted to keep it all very private–for whatever reason and that extended to the kind of cancer. I try to remember that they don’t “owe” the public anything, but sometimes the speculation can distract. So for that reason, I do kinda wish the kinds of cancer were known. Hope that makes sense! 😅

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  2. *sigh* I’ll tell you, it was a relief that the local newscaster, when reporting Alan Rickman’s death this morning on the radio, said he had ‘suffered with cancer.’ At least we know that was most likely the damned truth. Sadly. 😦

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    1. Oh yes, that rings true for me, I’d have no problem if someone said I suffered. But it was that juxtaposition, one man courageous, the other suffering. Plus, I’m sure some would hate being described as suffering. I was just objecting to this whole dramatic framework that everyone seems to think needs to be put on these stories. Just irksome. xo

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  3. I have to admit, I haven’t fully formed my opinion on the “language” that surrounds cancer and death. Do we fight when we have cancer. I actually think we do. Do I think we “lost the fight” if we die from our cancer? No, I don’t think that’s the case. Are we “brave?” Maybe. Sometimes. I don’t know. The reality is, for me, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what the right phrases are. I know what some of the wrong ones are. I’m just not sure where I stand on it all.
    As for Alan Rickman, I fell in love with him when I was a teenager and saw “Truly, Madly, Deeply.” I’ve been in love with him ever since. I’m devastated that he is gone and that cancer took his life. He was a force as a human being, philanthropist and artist. I can’t imagine our world without him

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    1. I think the “right” phrases differ for everyone. Many of these phrases are so cliched it drives me nuts! I do have a bit of problem when some patients talk continually about how they beat cancer, then when it recurs, suddenly there are no “losers”–the Diem Brown case is a prime example of that–ugh, that is a post for another day. But then, that is just my narrow black and white, either or mind at work. I remind myself to step back and try to open my mind and not see it that way.
      I have given some thought about the militaristic language. It seems only simple words and concepts like fight, warrior, win/lose are applied. Listening to an old podcast of some Iraq vets who’ve written a book–I could be persuaded to re-think my stance on the military metaphors. Ah again, another post for another time!
      Thanks for checking in!

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  4. I understand that some people like the analogy of the battle language and I can respect a different point of view. But when journalists write that someone lost the battle to cancer, it’s disturbing. Battles are fought with enemies and death happens on the battlefield – but the winner of the war is usually a collective group. If someone dies on the battlefield – they are on the winning side of the battle. So why if someone dies from cancer did they lose the battle? When someone dies there is a loss of life. But a battle- that implies they lost the fight. Also no one with cancer says, “hey cancer please kill me..and when I die tell everyone I lost.”

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    1. Oh. I know some are OK. with the battle language. It’s just the way it gets used for EVERYone with no thought, this assumption that once we get cancer, we all like these kinds of terms. and the over dramatic that made me flip out today 😦

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      1. I want to clarify what I wrote because I try to be sensitive to all points of view. Personally, I hate the battle language too, but I try to be respectful if someone with cancer wants to call it a battle. Still journalists should not call it a battle unless they are quoting someone. When my brother was dying from esophageal cancer and someone who survived early stage prostrate cancer ( much higher survival stats) said to him in front of everyone, “the way to beat cancer is to fight. Keep fighting hard. That’s how I did it.” I was furious. Sheer ignorance.

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      2. No worries, I got that you are sensitive to all POV. I agree, and try as well–but I don’t see reciprocation. I don’t want the “battle” things said to or about me–but because the language is so pervasive, well, of course those terms are used at me against my will. Sigh.

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  5. As you probably know, I’ve written about this too. It gets so old to keep hearing these trite phrases over and over. The whole war metaphor thing drives me a little nuts. But saying someone lost her battle is just so insensitive and poorly thought out. I still say why don’t people just simply and clearly state so and so died from cancer, or whatever the cause of death was?

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  6. Wendi, you have every right to feel frustrated. As you already know, I feel the same way you do. I never liked the military language. There’s a lot of drama when it comes to cancer, one reason I kept my dx semi-private at first because I hate drama. Media people have the power to help change this view/culture by being more sensitive to the situation and to the people involved.To me the military language doesn’t offer any level of empathy, if anything, it does the opposite (a little cruel even?). It also indirectly creates a level of pressure that patients do not need. I’ve been told to be overly sensitive but I am not the only patient who feels this way. Why not listen to us?

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    1. Exactly. I mean, I’m not trying to imply I could be a better journalist–but this little thing must improve. Like I said to Nancy, aren’t these professionals? What is WITH the reliance on trite? Ha, maybe I should send this to all major publications! Kidding….

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  7. FUCK YEAH!!! Girrrrrrrrl don’t EVEN get me started! I too have written about this time & again. The “Lost the battle” thing is my absolute biggest pet peeve with the whole language. Really great post!

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  8. Yes. Yes. And yes.
    The language is not helpful to those of us on the cancer side of things. It does need to change.
    But I fear it won’t because it’s so drilled and ingrained in the way we speak and talk and frame the cancer conversation. That said, I’ll still be there trying to help people frame it better, say it better!

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  9. Totally agree. “Lost the battle with cancer” implies that if he/she had just fought a little harder (or better), they wouldn’t have died. “Died of cancer,” is clearer & more meaningful.

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  10. When I read that Bowie “courageously battled” cancer, I cringed so hard I think my body shook. I do think it’s amazing, though, that David Bowie managed to put together and release an entire new body of work while he was ill. I don’t care too much about calling it a battle, because I think we are actively involved in trying to get well or just get through it. The courageous and brave thing irks me more. As if there’s a choice. Anyone drowning will do what they can to keep their head above water. As for Rickman, yes, they could have just said he died from cancer. This “lost” thing is just as weird, as if cancer is a competition sport.

    All that I need to hear is that Bowie and Rickman died from cancer. We’ll miss them. Let’s celebrate their lives by entertaining ourselves with their creative work. It’s their legacy that they were here and made a good mark on this world. All the other stuff is just journalistic drama that piggybacks off of the fame of celebrities.

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    1. Yep, it is all to sell print media or get clicks. But it is the cliched way people, society communicates. Journalists are professional writers, so I’d like them to stop relying on cliches!
      Yes, I’d rather just focus on their work, not this nonsense. Like I said, I just hated noticing it–seems so petty and small when considering someone like Bowie!

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