It's time I talked about this concept of "fighting." A term that's used so often in reference to cancer. I hear it used all the time, not just by people in general, but by the patients themselves, and their loved ones. I understand what is meant by this term, but I can't say I agree with it.
The term "fighting" or "battle" is much better applied to those who are curable through conventional treatment. If you are one of those, God bless you. I wish you the best. If it helps you to frame your approach to cancer as a fight or a battle, that's great for you. But for terminal cases like mine, it doesn't work as well. When you put it that way for us, you're implying that we're in a fight that we can never win.
I've been accused of not "fighting" because I wouldn't pursue a certain treatment or radically change my diet. Or simply because I accept the reality of my situation. I can't tell you how many posts of mine have had comments telling me to keep fighting. Sometimes the comment is simply, "Keep fighting, brother!" As though that's supposed to encourage me. But that's not encouragement. It's cheerleading.
I've written about this subject before, most notably in two posts, Winning and Cancer Peacenik. I'd like to quote a passage from each of these posts to shed more light on how I feel about this. From Winning, posted February 8th, 2016 to my CaringBridge journal, before this blog was launched:
What brought this on today was a comment I heard in church yesterday morning. Someone talked about a cancer patient who had "lost" their battle with cancer. We've all heard that expression many times before, but now it really bothers me.
People talk about dealing with cancer as "fighting." They frame it like you're in a contest, a battle with cancer, and if you win, you "beat" cancer. If you die, you "lost" your battle. If you don't try every treatment out there, you're giving up. I don't hear people talk about any other disease that way.
Let's get two things clear. One, if I'm cured, it won't be because I beat this cancer in my body. I don't have that ability, and neither does anyone else. Except one. If I'm cured, it will be because God healed me. No other reason. It will be a genuine miracle, because that's what it will take. If you've never seen one, hang on. You might see one soon.
But if that doesn't happen, here's the other thing I want to make clear. If the percentages prove true for me, and a miracle cure is not in the cards, don't anyone ever say that I lost my battle with cancer. No one exits this life as a loser.
That's my problem with framing my, or anyone's cancer journey in those terms. You never hear that in regard to any other disease. Here's one example. Let's suppose I got the flu, and never went to the doctor just because I don't like doctors. I figured I'd get over it on my own. Then suppose my flu turned to pneumonia, and I died from pneumonia. Would anyone accuse me of not fighting the flu? If I died of a brain aneurism, would anyone say I "lost my battle" with a brain aneurism? Of course not. It's only with cancer that you were were in a battle, and lost. According to the way we talk about cancer, everyone who dies of it dies a loser. I reject that terminology.
From Cancer Peacenik, posted May 20th, 2016:
If I could give one piece of advice to the loved ones of my fellow cancer patients, it's that if the one you love who has this disease seems at peace with their circumstances, and doesn't want to fight much, please don't think they're giving up. Acceptance is not surrender. It's realism.
Acceptance is not surrender, it's realism. From the day I was told how aggressive my cancer is, and how likely it was that I had microscopic metastasis, I've had an attitude of acceptance about this. Most of those who knew me, including those closest to me, took a long time to come to acceptance. Most of my loved ones, if not all, held out hope that somehow, some way, I would get better. A treatment would be found that would keep me around for a long time. But I always knew. And after seeing how I've responded to treatment so far, now my loved ones get it. I think my last scan results brought it home for many.
For me, getting poison pumped into my bloodstream in an effort to gain a few more months does not constitute "fighting." It would be throwing away the rest of the time I have feeling good. Another hormone treatment would only make me weaker than I am already, and it's not recommended for me anyway at this point. That's not fighting.
What about special diets for cancer? Why won't I go on a plant-based diet or the Ketogenic diet? Two reasons. One, I'd lose weight on either of those. Keeping enough weight on to be at what my nutritionist calls my "fighting weight" is of paramount importance for me. I prefer to call it my "pageant weight." If there was a skinny old man bod pageant, I'd win it at this weight. But I digress.
The Ketogenic diet is low carb. I need carbs to keep my weight up. My nutritionist tells me I need to always combine carbs with fat to stay at my goal weight. Bread and butter. Cheese and crackers. Cereal and milk. The most important aspect of diet for me is keeping a good BMI. I can't do that on either of those diets.
The other reason, of course, is that it's just too late for diet to make a difference. If you need to, go back to my post The Path Forward and look at the bone scans. Compare the one from last October, when I was first diagnosed Stage 4 to the one from about a week ago. My cancer is advancing fast, and there's nothing any diet can do about it now. Changing to a special diet for cancer wouldn't be fighting, it would be wasted effort.
If fighting means paying for alternative treatments, or traveling for treatment, we can't afford to do that. It's not that I won't fight, it's that I don't have the means to. Also, I am suspicious of any alternative treatment where someone's getting paid. The difference between every other alternative treatment out there - that I know of, anyway - and the cannabis oil treatment I'm on is that, here in Colorado, I could grow my own plants and make my own oil if I chose to. Rick Simpson purposely made his oil easy to make at home so people wouldn't have to pay high prices for this medicine. That's not true of any other alternative treatment that I'm aware of. Depleting our limited financial resources chasing one pipe dream after another would not be fighting. It would be irresponsible.
The picture at the top is pretty accurate in depicting my "battle." My little sledgehammer is not much good against the giant amoeba. One day, I won't be able to lift the hammer anymore, and this will happen.
When it does, please don't say I refused to fight just because I wouldn't pick up the weapon that would poison me as much as the amoeba, or make me so small I couldn't hold any weapons at all.
If you think I'm tipping my hand regarding my upcoming decision should the current experiment fail, you're probably right. You might also be thinking that it's ironic, or even hypocritical of me to end my posts with #waroncancer if I feel this way. I do that in support of the WarOnCancer.com website, of which I'm a member. But my cancer isn't a war. It's not a contest to be won or lost. It's not a boxing match. It's the hand I've been dealt, and I'm gonna play it out, regardless of the outcome.
I know it's hard for many, if not most people to wrap their heads around not wanting to do everything one can to stay on this planet for as long as possible. It's even harder for the loved ones of those who choose to reject or stop treatment. But please remember, these are personal choices, and they're up to the patient. No one else. Also keep in mind that for each of us, there are factors that you know nothing about. You can't project your life onto ours and judge what you think we should do based on your frame of reference.
I've always been more of a lover than a fighter anyway. I may not have as much fight in me as you wish I had, but I've got more love in me than I can hold. That's why I'm always trying to give it away. And the decision I must make soon is all about love. Not about fighting, but about doing what I feel I must for the one I love the most. I choose to make love, not war. Love is way better than fighting. #waroncancer #bearingwitness