27th Feb, 2021

Teen in remission from cancer says 'fighting' talk adds to pressure on patients

A TEENAGER who is in remission from cancer is urging people to reconsider using military metaphors like ‘fighter’ and ‘battle’ when talking about people who have the disease.

Amelia Howe, 19, from Rugby has written a guest blog post for the children’s charity Make-A-Wish UK to mark World Cancer Day tomorrow (Thursday February 4).

She said: “When all my friends were getting excited about prom and finishing their GCSEs, I was diagnosed with a rare form of soft tissue cancer. I was 15 at the time, and it was incredibly hard for me to adapt to this new and unfamiliar situation.

“I’ve now been in remission for three years five months and counting, but to get here I needed roughly 12 months of treatment which was a mix of chemotherapy and proton beam therapy.

“During that time, I began to pick up on the language people used whilst talking about my cancer diagnosis, and although I understood why people used it, I found it careless to assume people with cancer were happy to be spoken to in that way.”

She says cancer patients have to deal with being ill in their own way.

“If people around you are using ‘fighting’ language, it can add stress and guilt on top of everything you have to cope with,” she said.

“My time in inpatient wards was not spent with boxing gloves on. If someone isn’t in remission or passes away from cancer, is it their fault for not fighting hard enough? No. So why imply it is by using this language?

“No matter how much you smile, cancer is a complex disease that, sadly, cannot be healed with positivity. Using military metaphors like ‘fighter’ and ‘battle’ puts a sense of responsibility on the patient, and adds to the enormous amount of pressure on them to be healthy again.

“I often felt like I was letting people down when I had a particularly bad day, and some people treated me as if they would evaporate on the spot if they were diagnosed with cancer.

“I’ve had a teacher say ‘I don’t know how I would wake up in the morning if I was in your situation.’ This isn’t helpful or motivating!”

She says people who do not have direct experience of having cancer themselves should be very mindful of the language they use, especially if caring for a patient.

“If you’re diagnosed with cancer, there is no other choice but to ‘be brave’ and although I ‘survived’ cancer, the experience will stay with me for the rest of my life.

“Please hesitate before using terms like ‘fighting’ cancer!”

Visit www.tinyurl.com/1i5dtum7 to read Amelia’s blog post.

Amelia will also be answering questions in a takeover of the charity’s Instagram channel tomorrow (Thursday February 4). Visit www.tinyurl.com/52noq6a9 to join the conversation.

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