Ongoing “Battling” Conversation

Editor |

Our discussion about “Battling” continues on, but here is what we have discussed so far. This was an interesting debate, not because there was lot of disagreement about whether battling is a helpful term in relation to cancer – there seems to be a broad consensus that it is often not – but because of the many different ways that contributors arrived at similar conclusions.

Several people suggested that the battling metaphor sets up a perception of winners and losers in the conflict. Mara writes that in that kind of metaphor there “is an undertone that […] we are battling ourselves–or even worse, that we lost the battle or didn’t try hard enough”. Betsy agrees that “the language of fighting and battling is problematic to me when it sets up people with cancer to be potential losers.”

As well as being unfair, suggesting that kind of binary win/lose idea surrounding cancer and those it affects oversimplifies a reality which Ted suggests is “more a chess match than a wild battle”. For Ted, things are far more complex: “There is no check-mate. We just stop playing. You can call it a battle if you want, and I might too, sometimes. It would be great if it were that simple. But it’s not.” Physician Don agrees that cancer is “the result of a biologic process gone awry […]not a conscious process, and one’s body did not “begin the war””.

Perhaps the most misleading aspect of the battling metaphor for many writers is the implication of a decision between condition and individual to fight. That, as Don puts it, “gives cancer too much credit. Battling assumes that someone (or something) started the fight which assumes a measure of will was involved. It’s symbolism that places too much credit to diseases like cancer.”

There should be other ways to understand cancer then, beyond just victory or defeat. Megan writes about a relative with cancer who didn’t “lose his battle”, but instead “stepped away from it because he wanted to. He did not lose, but instead chose to end it. Now, I no longer like to believe that a battle has two sides. I like to believe that there is a win, a loss and a neutral ground of just walking away.”

Battling Word CloudYou can see a word cloud for Battling on this post too, which allows us to see what the more common words from all the perspectives pieces have been. Bigger words on the word cloud have been used most often, and smaller ones a little less often. (We filtered out the keywords “Cancer” and “Battling” from the cloud, since they were of course used a lot).

Please add your comments below about what you think these words around Battling suggest the term can mean.


  1. I do not use the word “survivor” -it makes me uncomfortable. I say “when I had breast cancer”. It is a physiological disease that alters your body. Writers, marketing and advertising execs use “war” terms and adjectives to discuss cancer to make it more interesting to read about. If they published a pathology report, no one would understand it or be interested!

    Sarah Burke | | 6:45am

  2. what is the etymology of the term “battle”? i suspect it comes from big pharma, to whom a battle means, let us relieve you of a million dollars in treatment before you die, after hideously prolonged suffering caused by treatment.

    Jeannette | | 10:38am

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