Your Phrases Are Problematic

I’m so behind on everything. I started this post when I listened to a podcast that was over a week old—and that was in the first week of the year. It was one of those year-end specials, about the most hated/loved words/phrases of the year. So, yeah, I’m writing a post inspired by a year-end list about 2017, more than a month into 2018. Good grief.

I like segments about language; I guess it’s just the old English major in me. I was walking along and chuckling when the host and her guest started in on how much they hate words many of us in CancerLand use: Narrative and/or My journey.


In the process of making fun of the phrase “my journey”, the host and guest did poke fun at what I—not they—would call “disease culture” (is that a thing—and BTW “a thing” was also a hated phrase of 2017). They poo-poo’d the over-dramatic element by invoking an imaginary patient “on their psoriasis journey”. Yikes! I don’t know if they got any backlash  from the psoriasis community, and if they did, they kind of deserve it. I mean, yes, I got the point, but it was a bit tone deaf. Or maybe I’m just a bit sensitive to this sort of thing.

Now, I’ve complained about words and phrases in our little breast cancer culture my own self (see Some Word Problems). And I’ve said a few times here and other SM platforms that I dislike “my journey”. I try not to trash it too much; I know others like the phrase. I definitely use the phrase “dominant narrative”. Why? Well, because it is easier than saying what I really mean: that rah-rah, sappy, personal tragedy-to-triumph story that has become such a cliché when reporting on warriors gonna-beat-this-thing-while-smiling-and-wearing-feather-boas that all TV and media seems to think ALL breast cancer “survivors” embody. I mean—look at the sentence I just wrote! Hell yeah I’m gonna say/write “dominant narrative” and I know everyone will know exactly what I mean! Ugh!

At any rate, this podcast made me feel a little weird. You know, that odd defensive way, when you feel allowed to shit on something that is YOUR thing, but when others do it, you go crazy defending that something. Like, I poke fun at how rural and redneck my town is—but I get VERY offended if anyone from ANY OTHER place in the world says the same thing. You know what I mean. So, I didn’t like that these podcast hosts were poking fun at “narrative” and “journey”. What right did they have?! I was indignant!

In fact I have to make a strange confession here. I roll my eyes all the time on this blog (for how many years?) about all the pink and the breast cancer culture, and the over-bearing-ness of it all. But I get mad sometimes when people with other cancers do it. You can see that anger a bit in some old posts. It’s like, why has breast cancer become the scapegoat? Of course I know damn well why, but, still. I’m sure what really bugs me is a suspicion that those doing this scapegoating assume ALL of us breast cancer patients are full-on embracing the pink madness. It is a common mistake I see often.

Whoops I rambled off there.

So what is to be done about the overuse of “narrative” and “journey”? I honestly don’t know. It’s a shame some words get overused, become trite, meaningless. And worst of all, eye-roll inducing. In fact, the name of this post is a re-wording of a book or essay I once read—“Your Fave is Problematic” (I think). Funny thing is, once after I read the piece, I read another piece saying—you guessed it—calling anything “problematic” is, in fact, problematic.

This is quite revealing, isn’t it? Maybe the real problem here is again, information overload. Everything, like the news cycle, is accelerated these days. I love reading books about slang, and I remember being surprised how long some things had been around and were not yet considered overused. I still say “cool”, I probably overuse it, but it seems normal. On the other hand, no one says “daddio” anymore—or do they? Did that get old quickly? I get it, I’m sick of many words and phrases these days my own stupid self.

Now to bring it back to cancer, (because this IS a cancer blog), I cannot help but wonder how many people NOT in disease communities, like the podcast hosts, are tired of the way we (patients of various serious illnesses) speak? I do consider this kind of risky. With all these cancer people, myself included, talking about journeys, will people just stop listening, and our message go unheard?

Even though I’ve been sharing “my story” here on this blog for years, I do roll my eyes when I hear about people “sharing their stories”. Again, it seems so trite. But on the other hand, I’ve become tolerant about “stories” in the last year. I know that “sharing my cancer story” works as I advocate in health care politics. I’ll keep using it, shamelessly. I have to—I’ll do anything to protect my access to health insurance. Otherwise I face potential catastrophe. And why shouldn’t I? Our POTUS, love him or hate him, uses narrative masterfully. This was a key point repeated by pundits and critics after the SOTU speech the other week. In fact, he weaponizes the technique. But I can too.  Stories trump facts most of the time. Anyone paying attention to the ongoing “facts and stats about mammogram effectiveness vs the ‘mammogram saved my life’” saga knows this is true.

I claimed at the start of this post that I like things about language, I have B.A. in English Literature, and heaven knows I’ve screamed at journalists (here on this blog) to come up with a better way of announcing celeb deaths than “…lost his/her battle with cancer”–it is their profession for crying out loud! So surely I can come up with a better way to describe all these words—my story, my journey, my narrative—that I use to counter the “dominate narrative”. I will give it a little thought, but not much. Because I have too much work to do—telling my story, so I can challenge, and hopefully change, the dominate narrative.

It’s a real journey. Ha ha.

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.

11 thoughts on “Your Phrases Are Problematic”

  1. Totally get this. You’ll notice I haven’t written much myself this past year. I’m so sick of the clichés. I’m so sick of talking about it. I think I’ve managed to avoid using both the words, “journey” and “narrative” on my blog. I recall referring to “it,” with tongue firmly in cheek, as The Adventure, or the Sleigh Ride. A lot of my references to it are an attempt not to use all expletives, to use words euphemistically and humorously, even though expletives are really mostly how I think of the damned pain in the ass that the whole cancer extravaganza has been. There ya go — mild expletives and a euphemism. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I’m kind of sick of talking about it–in a way I’m far removed from the actual experience now (DX, treatment, etc). But I am still fascinated by the culture and how it is a microcosm of all culture. I have not written, as you know, because of my other activities. And I see so much of the same crap there as I saw in breast cancer culture. Sigh. Oh and BTW, I use experience I’ve noticed, for some time, to avoid journey or story or whatever. PITA is the best word for it though–just not the same ring: “I’m sharing my PITA with the world on my blog”. I’m tired, I’m punchy, can you tell?
      Anyway, thanks for chiming–tired of it all though we both may be! xoxo


  2. I reflected on something similar with the word “survivor”, which I have come to use not because I like it, but rather because it is the word that people understand – and it has become the word that is used by the medical profession to describe the time after treatment (i.e. survivorship).

    I confess, I like journey – but that is because I have taken many journeys in my life, so my cancer journey (sorry) is just another lens that I use to see and write about my life experiences …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah survivor is a VERY fraught term here in CancerLand. I, too, use it only because it is a term understood by all. I’ve used former cancer patient, tho that isn’t quite accurate–I still see the onco once a year.
      Very true, cancer is just another lens, another contributing experience to how we view things in our lives. I get frustrated when people say patients should just “get over it”. What are we really, if not the sum of our experiences? Everything does (and should) affect our view.
      Thanks for chiming in!


  3. I too am sensitive to language, but I also think we need to respect the language that works for each of us. While I hate the term fighter, I also recognize that seeing themselves as a fighter helps some cancer patients cope with the experience. Similarly, when I started my blog almost a decade ago, I chose to use the word journey in its title because the metaphor of a journey resonated with me deeply. I felt I was very much in unchartered terrain as I tried to find a new direction for my life. Words like “direction” and “crossroads” all correspond to the journey metaphor for me and it helped me visualize the “road” ahead of me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I DID think of you when I heard this podcast (a month ago, argh!) and the way they were deriding journey. I remember not liking it, feeling very strongly about it, early in my blogging days, and watching you discuss in comments section how you were OK with the journey. These days, with time and my current political activities creating a huge distance from cancer “experience” for me, I am rather detached about so many issues in CancerLand that once roused anger or passion in me. I kind of…don’t care–if that makes sense. This post is more of a rumination on how it all plays out, rather than advocating for anyone to use one term or another. Perhaps I am not making that clear these days.
      You are absolutely correct–I can loathe that society forces the label or warrior on me, can even try hard to explain why this should not be automatic–but I can’t fuss about those who willing embrace the term. I’ve seen much intolerance on ALL sides in CancerLand, over every little thing, and I’m done with it.
      As for keep journey out of narrative graphic–it is meant only to point the finger at the overuse of each phrase. To point out that to many, both words no longer mean…anything. I can decry the use of journey, but I use narrative, so what does that make me? Just as BORING.
      I can love these end of year “words we are sick of” podcasts, but here is the problem: if we keep making these year end lists, we will soon run out of words for everything.


  4. I hate the word survivor because we will never know we’ve survived cancer until we’ve died of something else. Sometimes I call it my cancer altered life path. Cancer induced life trajectory. Here I am 9 years this month of dx. Stage 3c, Her2+, ER+ entered clinical trial, 6 months neoadjuvent chemo, experimental drug with standard cocktail, mastectomy , radiation , reaction to herceptin ( flatlined!) , lost implant due to necrotic radiated tissue, tram flap surgery to get a breast after all. Developed lymphedema , hospiaized twice in 2013 for cellulitis, ongoing PT for lymphedema , while in hospital got C-Diff. Finally retired after that. Too early to receive full teacher pension. Oh, and got lichen schlerosis on labia due to Estrogen sucking tamoxifen . Every single day is maintenance of the after or maybe ongoing , it’s ravages have never stopped. So my life is and will always be forever altered . Never over and in past tense. Oh and squamous cell cancer on radiated chest area to boot. Nope, not trying to “one up” but for God’s sake never really got a before and after treatment perspective because of the lifestyle/maintenance of the long term no cure conditions I’m living with forevermore. *sigh*


    1. Boom! Exactly, until we die of something else, survivor isn’t really applicable is it? Not to be all doom and gloom…
      A friend hated the phrase “new normal”. Altered life path is perfect!


  5. Hi CC,
    I came back to reread this one. Words have clout, that’s for sure. Some of the clout is good and some not so much. So many cancer words drive me crazy. As you know. Not a fan of journey, survivor and so many others. In fact, I don’t even like saying words like, chemotherapy, mastectomy, lumpectomy or whatever cancer words you might pick. So maybe it’s not the words at all, but the stupid cancer I hate so much. I use that phrase, dominant narrative, all the time. And I use survivor, too, because people know what I’m talking about then. Or do they? Not if they lump us all together in that dominant narrative group…Didn’t realize you had a degree in Eng Lit. Or maybe I just forgot. Yeah, that’s probably it. Anyway, thought-provoking post about words. Thank you.


    1. Thank YOU! LOL my degree is more a reflection of my analytical abilities I think–all my profs would write “very perceptive” on my papers. Kinda wish I’d gone a different path embracing my analytical side, but, too late for that now.
      I’m starting to think all the words will get tiresome, simply from using any of them so much. I used to say “cancer experience”, but I got sick of myself with that one. Critics would tell me to stop talking so much about cancer then, if I get tired of the words used around it–but, that won’t happen–ha ha!
      I guess maybe the challenge is to keep it interesting to ourselves as well, and in doing so, we will keep our message fresh, a new spin on the same narrative if you will. This is probably good–so we aren’t just spouting off the same old tired thing–which in my view is a big part of the eternal pink crap. Komen and all the others are in a rut. Even the ones supposedly “shaking things up” can get in a rut with the “shake up” ways (I’m thinking the topless photos for instance, which I’ve done–ages ago–which is the point).
      Gotta keep moving, I’m just not always sure how.


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