My father died of prostate cancer at the age of 18. His diagnosis was not optimistic, but I tried to be. I remember very well queuing at Souplantation shortly after he shared the news and said, "Dad, it's good, you're so good you can beat that."
My father – a primary care physician – reacted with fright, nodding kindly at me and my little sister. But he knew that it was unbeatable at this point.
Thirteen years after his death, I still regret this moment.
I rebel against these words because they imply that cancer is a win-lose battle and that you are somehow "lost" if the disease is beyond you.
The idea that you can "beat" something as insidious as cancer perpetuates the myth that the patient is entirely responsible for his recovery, not a human being plunged into an endless cycle of surgeries , chemotherapy, radiation and relapses. And if they do not beat him? It's a failure.
But as a girl, this totally clichéd language had all kinds of meanings: even today, my father persists in my mind as a real Superman, a man who competed in bodybuilding competitions in Southern California (at a time when American Asian participants were very rare), published a popular magazine on bodybuilding, and then helped patients combat the ills as a general practitioner.
In my magical amazement after his diagnosis, a fighter was what I wanted most for my father. And what other are you supposed to tell when a loved one is going through such a painful situation as a cancer diagnosis?
BJ Miller, Palliative and Palliative Care Specialist who treats hospitalized patients with a terminal illness or life-altering illness at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center.
"I think we are falling back on these statements for several reasons, mainly the habit," he told HuffPost. "Sometimes people do not really think when they say it. They are more moments of gesture than of dialogue. "
Plus, as Miller noted, culturally, we like to stand out from death. Conflict of illness or suffering or death with weakness by posing as warrior heroes capable of giving the best feeling for the moment.
"It helps to feel hard when you feel weak," said Miller. "We are demonizing cancer so we can mobilize the fight."
We are only human, however. Finally, we all aging and "losing" our respective struggles, even if it is not a cancer to which our body will succumb.
"It's something that we all, collectively, have to accept," said Miller. "I think we are beginning to understand that we need a different construction from that of" defeating cancer "so that we can not do ourselves or make others doomed to lose for doing what we need all do. "
"The instinctive reaction is to fight this demon – to eliminate it. The problem is that in our quest we sometimes forget the individual who is the unfortunate victim of cancer. In trying to get rid of this pest, we often end up harming the host. "
– Nagashree Seetharamu, Oncologist at Northwell Health Cancer Institute and Breast Cancer Survivor
And the fact remains: cancer is a real attack on a person; cancer cells develop and divide, grow and divide, ad nauseam, forming tumors that ravage the immune system. Your body is literally at war with itself.
The combat images we use in the conversation are adapted in this respect. When we tell a loved one that he can "beat cancer", we tell him not only that he is strong, but that we will support him in the trenches. Unfortunately, this can sometimes result in unwanted effects on mental health, especially if the patient has already found peace through advanced diagnosis.
Nagashree Seetharamu, an oncologist with the Northwell Health Cancer Institute, understands this angry and disproportionate reaction. Although research is progressing and survival rates are rising, cancer is a scary diagnosis. (She knows very well, a few years ago, she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.)
"The instinctive reaction is to fight this demon – to eliminate it," she said. "The problem is that in our quest we sometimes forget the individual who is the unfortunate victim of cancer. In trying to get rid of this pest, we often end up harming the host. "
Regardless of how the trip ends, we must focus on the person: the winner must always be the patient.
"For me," defeating cancer "means not letting cancer dictate to my life or that of my patients life or death," said Seetharamu. "It involves following procedures and treatments to control or cure cancer when there is a reasonable chance of doing so."
It is interesting to note that there are obvious advantages to using optimistic language when discussing the disease. Research shows that a positive outlook on cancer treatment can have an effect on the results.
There is a middle ground between an optimistic perspective "let us beat this prospect" and total sadness – a solution I would have liked to overcome when I learned of my father's diagnosis.
To begin with, mentioning his previous strength in the face of difficulties would probably have been comforting to him. This is generally a safe approach, according to Kelsey Crowe, a cancer survivor and author of There is no good map for this: what to say and what to do when life is scary, terrible and unfair to the people you love.
"If the person has hope, then instead of" you can beat this, "you can say," I've seen you face a lot of difficult things before, and this is the hardest one, "he said. said Crowe. "If anyone agrees more about not defeating the disease, you can say that you admire someone for making peace with this phase of his life and that you are focusing on the culture of A peaceful end. "
In the end, there is no reading book for this kind of thing. To the best of your ability, just read the piece and consider the person. Whatever you say, make sure he's serving them, says Miller.
"I think there is enough room for this more brutal approach – the example" you can beat this example "- but in general, we just need space for a wider range of answers, "he said.
"You can also say something simple:" I am so happy that you told me. Whatever happens and whatever decisions you make, I am with you. "
"Living with" is a guide to navigating the conditions that affect your mind and body. Each month, HuffPost Life will tackle real problems by offering different stories, tips and opportunities to connect with people who understand what it is. In March, we cover cancer. Do you have an experience to share? Email [email protected]