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‘I Needed Someone To Put Into Words That This Wasn’t Her Fault’: Readers Respond To Column About Cancer Language

‘I Needed Someone To Put Into Words That This Wasn’t Her Fault’: Readers Respond To Column About Cancer Language

Source: Chicago Tribune

I watched — and ducked in and out of — a tangled, important, often painful dialogue this weekend about cancer and the language we use to describe it. Last week, after Alex Trebek announced he has stage 4 pancreatic cancer, I wrote a column about attaching the words “battle” and “lose” and “win” to the disease. I interviewed Chicagoan Sheila Quirke, whose 4-year-old daughter and both parents died of cancer. “People who die from their cancer diagnosis are not weak, have not lost, are not losers,” she told me. “People who survive their cancer diagnosis are not winners who beat a mighty foe.” Her words were intended, especially, for people who write about cancer and cancer patients: journalists, like me. “Allow cancer patients to define themselves, always,” she said. “But stop contributing to a paradigm of war for this specific disease. Never refer to someone as having ‘lost their battle’ with cancer. Never say someone ‘fought hard,’ only to ‘succumb.’ Never suggest a cancer patient has the ability to ‘beat’ their disease. Writers and journalists have the capacity to shift the narrative and use language that does not rely on this damaging and ill-conceived war trope.”

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