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Warts, wars and the language of cancer

A while back I was checking out the career resources section at Chapters. I was startled by the number of books with aggressive titles. Good is Not Enough. Bullet-Proof Your Job. Knock ’em Dead. Power Talk: Using Language to Build Authority and Influence.

It struck me that the language of job-hunting is overtly masculine, which might perhaps explain why it’s called job hunting, rather than job gathering.

(The books aimed at women, by the way, were just as bad, only different. Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman: What men know about success that women need to learn. The Girl’s Guide to Being a Boss (Without Being a Bitch): Valuable Lessons, Smart Suggestions, and True Stories for Succeeding as the Chick-in-Charge.)

At the time I was feeling a little deflated at being laid off, and I didn’t see myself coming back with both guns blazing. I saw myself coming back gently, after a period of reflection and self-assessment, and perhaps setting out on an entirely different career path.

I’m reminded of this now because the language of cancer also strikes me as aggressive and masculine. It’s all about battles and wars and fighting and killing.

About 20 years ago I had a family of warts living on the ball of my left foot. The doctor burned them with dry ice. They retreated temporarily, but came back. She repeated this treatment numerous times over several months, but they kept coming back. Then she tried burning half-way through my foot with a flesh-burning machine. She said there was no way they could come back after that. The foot healed and the family of warts moved right back in. The doctor gave up and referred me to a dermatologist.

The dermatologist said “What we’re going to do is chemically shock your immune system.”

I liked my immune system just the way it was. It kept me healthy while everybody around me was getting colds and flus. Shocking it, in my opinion (which was based purely on gut feelings) could go either way – my immune system might get even better, or it might get worse.

I declined the treatment.

I said “I will learn to live with the warts.”

And that’s exactly what I did. I called off the war on warts. I accepted them.

Two weeks later, all the warts disappeared. They’ve never come back.

I’m not saying I’ll accept the cancer and it’ll miraculously go away. I’m just not sure I want to wage war on cancer.

We use war language for many social problems these days. Drugs. Terrorism. Poverty. These are problems and they are symptoms of other problems. You can’t fix them with a battering ram. You can’t fix them without first understanding them. By framing them in the language of war, we’re making our problems worse and dooming ourselves to endless fighting without solutions.

I haven’t finished thinking this through as it pertains to cancer. My thoughts are still evolving. But I think I want to focus my energy and imagery on getting healthy rather than on defeating the enemy. You know what I mean?

19 comments to Warts, wars and the language of cancer

  • grace

    Sort of a gross story. I have always believed that I could cure warts. And I have. One day, about thirty years ago, I was telling a friend of my husband’s that I could do this. He laughed at me, whipped off his sock and said “Look at THIS wart.” (Bobby was the kind of guy, who when asked to be best man at a wedding, would forget to take his hockey equipment out of the back seat of the car the bride was to ride in. Ask me how I know) Anyway, there was no wart. Just the hole where a wart used to be. I rest my case. Sometimes you just have to believe.

    The ‘battle with cancer’ so oft seen in obits makes me want to scream.

  • Joanna

    I too have issues with the battle rhetorics.
    I am learning to live with a serious autoimmune disorder. For me there isn’t even any “enemy” to attack, it is my own confused immune system that is doing all the damage. The best I can do is to embrace this screwed-up body, the only one that I am going to have, and get to like it the way it is. I am finding this experience liberating and quite rewarding. Odd but true.

  • Manon

    I know exactly what you mean. Violence doesn’t always solve everything. Like a Gandhi stance against the cancer.

  • I’ve always been uncomfortable with the war language on illness. Susan Sontag wrote a couple of books on that topic, but I can’t remember her point. It was all very theoretical.

    I’m glad you’re finding your own path through this. And PS. Those book titles are horrible.

  • XUP

    Same issue with people “battling” their weight; “waging war on fat”… like parts of your body are completely foreign entities. You are a “victim” of cancer or a “survivor”. Fat, cancer, disease – it’s all part of your body, part of the evolution of you. Your body is responding to something and asking your brain to take notice of this response — to perhaps change or modify something in your life in order to balance that response. I think you’re doing an amazing job of processing this and finding your way through it.

  • The language of disease sums up the (flawed) thinking of our current health-care system. Allopathic medicine deals with “curing” or masking symptoms, not underlying conditions, and sees the body and the patient as a collection of non-related parts. Anyone with a grain of common sense and body awareness knows that everything is related to everything else in the body; that you can’t “wage war” on one specific part of the body without side-effects elsewhere.

    I’ve often thought that the current cancer treatment regimes are unnecessarily brutal and toxic; that being said I don’t know the other choices.

    Remind yourself and your health-care practitioners that there’s a body and a mind and a spirit attached to that tumor that they’re focused on. Feed and nurture *all* of yourself, and perhaps your general flourishing will choke out the weeds.

    I wish you courage and wisdom as you search for a path to healing.

  • From the book I’m giving you – Give yourself the gift of time – don’t consent to treatment until then. Do nothing. (let go of your controlling mind and let your intuition flow. Collect information, read books by women, talk to survivors, listen to your own inner wisdom, define your paradigm of healing. Engage the energy – cancer cells are immature, they are greedy, they aren’t respectful, they don’t cooperate, they are imperialists, they are not neat and organized, What ways pother than cancer do you have to express the immature, greedy, disrespectful, uncooperative, imperialistic, messy disorganized parts of yourself? Be difficult, Women who react with a fighting spirit – or with denial – are betteroff long term than those who react with acceptance or hopelessness. Words have power define things in your own terms – example – not a patient – a client. Take the stress off your imune system – take off your bra, don’t use antiperspirant. Nourish and tonify. Talk about how you’re feeling. Women in therapy or support groups fare better long term. /Eat your weeds – burdock root, nettle, red clover, violets. DANDELION!!! Increase your calcium consumption and protein consumption with foods not pills. Get massages, don’t imgore your cancer free breast! SLEEP as much as you need. Love yourself. You deserve it.

    love mud!

  • h! The other person to read is Gabor Mate, his book – “When the Body Says No”. Looks at the mind body connection.

  • Oma

    I heard this morning on CBC that there is an information evening for women with breast cancer and those who care about them … not sure of the details … but three cancer specialists are the people conducting it and the website they gave was … I think … I may have the final initial wrong. (It was 6 a.m. :~)

  • Oma

    Oops! That was the Canadian Border Collie Rescue site. It is! (Although the other site was interesting too!)

  • Julia

    I liked all the diagnostic tests. Once I had the results, then I knew more what I was dealing with. But I really like all that information to begin with. Just go with the flow and let the doctors handle all the info, if that feels easier. You will know what is best for you when it happens.

  • Julia

    Oops, this was supposed to be in the next entry! I am sure you figured that out.

  • makes sense. Gandhian healing sounds interesting. if immune system is down, drawing energy towards mind fighting the offense on one front while body is repairing on another might divide strength.

  • Jen G

    This post is one of the many reasons you rock, Zoom. Thinking of you.

  • Have you seen the documentary “Crazy Sexy Cancer”? It’s about one incredibly inspiring woman. You’re also very inspiring – the thoughts and prayers of many are with you.

  • carole

    I think Mud is right on the money.

    We have a saying in french: ‘tout ce passe entre les deux oreilles!’

    Basically means the ‘mind’ really is a serious determinent of where we let our lives go, through our minds and, our thoughts.

    That being said, sending you all positive thoughts and tons of light to illuminate you.

    I hope you know how amazing you really are!

    Keep blogging girl.


  • I am so inspired by your thoughts. Thank you for writing so honestly.

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