I’ve been absent because of American politics. As I’ve mentioned on Facebook, I am working on a new blog to channel those thoughts elsewhere so I can keep some of the divisive politics off of this blog–but there WILL be some crossover.

I’ve been busy with a couple of other politics-related projects but will return soon. Until then, a re-post for a reason.

The D Word

A/N I started this post a week or two ago, but thought it would be taken as offensive. But I read a couple of things since, including Nancy’s Point and some horrible comments on Huffington Post that have renewed my desire to speak out to explain why, for me, sugarcoating death is so repugnant. Please click the link and read Nancy’s post, as well as the other post she links by Dr. Wosnick. Those are much nicer, more eloquent thoughts than the ones I express here. What I’ve written here still is a bit offensive, I even offend myself with it, but I think the topic is worth discussing.

The d-word….

No I do not mean dirty words like the f-word or the b-word (you know I have no problem just putting those actual words in here). But I meant death/dead/die.

It is strange that we avoid saying dead or died, yet, at least here in this rural area in which I live, some mourn quite publicly for a long time, perhaps morbidly so. On any given day I drive down a road and see at least one car with one of those “In loving memory” stickers, complete with date of birth and date of death. Or I see those tiny imitation grave sites that develop at the site of a car crash, off to the side of the road, complete with flowers, pictures and other kinds of things one puts at a tombstone (I assume other trinkets are also at a grave site) . So, those who engage in this very public mourning and memorializing are acknowledging quite obviously that the loved one is dead…yet in conversations many would say “so & so passed away”? In the example of the stickers on cars, it looks like an advertisement that the person is dead, but no one will actually say “so & so died”.

Why do we avoid saying “so & so died”? We say we lost someone, or they went to the light, into that good night or—hell I’m guilty of it too, I once said right here on this blog someone was “gone”—as if he just went to the store for milk or something. See how quickly my mind changed about the euphemisms? Lost is the one that really disturbs me, because in my literal mind, I may know that the person is dead, and I immediately assume the body was misplaced.

I find these euphemisms silly, and annoying. I especially hate them in Cancer World, where there are combined with the warrior/military language. Given the fact that both here on my blog and in real life I’ve been called “honest”, “candid”, and “direct”, is it really any surprise that I say any of this?

Or is it just in Cancer Land that the battle phrase is used? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say their friend/loved one “lost their battle” to heart disease, to stroke, to complications from surgery, to old age (although many of us wage war on that one, don’t we, with our make-up, night creams, etc.?). Although I will say I often hear someone had a heart attack. “Is he ok?”, “No, he passed.” See, no d-word again.

But of course, the battle language of cancer must be upheld, and it is all part of the blame-the-patient package. The patients must be responsible for all aspects of their special cancer…their poor diet/drinking/not having kids caused cancer in the first place, and in the event of death, it is NOT due to the treatments not being effective enough, oh no, it must be because the patient had a bad attitude and/or did not fight hard enough, therefore making him/her a loser.

The reason I insist we need to say the d-words is because it needs to be up-front-and-in-your- face that cancer kills, in an active, personal away. To say one of us lost the battle, like we are bad soldiers, is an insult. It has been said before and I simply parrot it here: I’m NOT a soldier although I suspect my body is a battlefield in which cancer and treatment fought one another bitterly. I was just kind of…there, getting the environmental impacts, like a scarred landscape for instance.

Like Nancy’s mother I do not want the obituary to say I passed away after the battle with cancer (although I do not presume to know why she said that or what she wanted instead). If I die of cancer before I reach the average age at which American women die, then it is cancer that killed me and I want that known.  I want it known that cancer killed me, that medicine and lack of research into prevention failed me, I did not fail in the war.

So for me, no passing away, no losing of any battles, no raging against the dying of the light. Death from cancer is not the time for poetic language, if I’m the one doing the dying.

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.

4 thoughts on “CC is AWOL”

  1. Thank you for bringing this up. It is so needed to keep talking about it.
    I’ve had a lot of death in my life. So much that I wondered if all the grief contributed to my getting cancer. Anyway I definitely agree that talking about death openly is needed. Including with children. While I was in treatments for breast cancer, my friend Meg died from metastatic breast cancer. She had forgone nearly all western treatments and lived for 7 years. She was a very fierce, intelligent woman. I was part of the small circle of family and friends that cared for her in her last two weeks of life. I personally made all funeral arrangements, and led the care of her body when she passed, preparing and dressing her body for the in home funeral, and natural burial.
    One of her last requests of me was that I make sure that no one say that she had lost her battle with cancer. She said, “You tell them that I did not lose my battle with breast cancer, you tell them that I won my battle with the cancer industry!” She was very proud of her choices and efforts for her own care, and that she outlived her diagnosis by several years, without using chemo or radiation, which was very important to her.
    The sidelong ways we talk about death is connected to many things. To not say it out loud does not ease grief in my experience. Perhaps for some it does. I believe that openly discussing death at our house with our children is allowing them to grow up with less fear and more matter of fact ness around their own mortality. Certainly less fear than I had.
    Phew sorry about the comment novel-


  2. Major kudos for writing about this. I’m still working through my feelings about my mom having died from breast cancer. Did she “lose”? I know she didn’t. But the language surrounding the “fight” against breast cancer never considers the counter factual — when people actually die from the disease. It’s a source of never-ending frustration for me.


  3. Very well said! I am guilty of saying “sorry for your loss” and this is something I learned from this culture. For me, it has to do with how I will make others feel. I’ve always felt comfortable using the “D” word, otherwise. Maybe because of my background. Where I was raised, the culture can be a bit dramatic so we actually overdo it with the language, rather than finding ways make the situation look more peaceful. I’ve never really used the military language, and this is mostly related to my family cancer history. I suspect that if I hadn’t been exposed to this disease from a very young age, I might have followed the same culture we have here. Maybe. I dislike the military language and would want people to say the cause of my death, when the time comes (and hopefully it won’t be any time soon – wish the same for you).

    Your current projects sound interesting. Would love to learn more, when you’re ready to share. xo


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