My friend Ari sent me this, a letter to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, published here (CMAJ.2011; 183: 83) if you have Journal access. It's a followup to this article, "Cancer: it's time to change the sign," by James Downar in October 2010:
The "battle" against cancer
by Paul J. Byrne MD
Stollery Children's Hospital, Edmonton, AB
Downar is to be praised for his brave call to abandon the outmoded language of warfare in the "battle" against cancer.
Our job is to help people with cancer survive their illness as well as possible for as long as possible. We do them a terrible disservice by suggesting that their individual strength of character and ability to endure suffering will pull them through. To do so ignores all the evidence about both low and high mortality rates for various cancers despite maximal therapy and patient commitment to be cured.
So much of the influence on survival either predates diagnosis or depends on early diagnosis and treatment for so many cancers. We must avoid the risk of adding insult to injury by mindlessly blaming the patient for lack of response to treatment.
As a lucky survivor of colon cancer, I credit the expertise of my physician and surgeon for my survival rather than my own "inner strength."
I made a related point a few weeks ago, inspired by fellow cancer patients Christopher Hitchens and Barbara Ehrenreich. While I don't think being angry all the time is productive, trying to force yourself to be chipper in some twisted version of that foul phenomenon The Secret might be even worse.
My cancer is not my fault. Being bummed out about it won't make it worse, and the fact that it's killing me isn't something I can counteract by being upbeat about it either. No more than I could somehow cheer myself out of a severed limb.