The Meddler

No-one ever “battles” cancer

Michael Jackson’s father Joe passed away last week at the age of 89. It’s been reported on extensively, and I’ve noticed radio newsreaders, online reporters and broadcast anchors using the same phrase again and again…

“He lost his battle with cancer…”

“He died following a battle with pancreatic cancer…”


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“He had been battling terminal pancreatic cancer…”

Why do journalists always use this language when reporting on cancer-related deaths?

No-one ever says, “He died after a long battle with heart disease” or, “She lost her battle with diabetes”.

So why do we say it around cancer?

It frustrates me, because to label the experience as a “battle” implies that there is a war being waged, and if you could just fight that little bit harder, then you might be able to win… but if you don’t fight it hard enough, you’re somehow to blame for losing?

The truth is, cancer is an illness, not a battle. It’s a team sport, because it takes an army of doctors, health professionals, support services, family members and other loved ones to move through it.

Moreover, no-one “battles” cancer. Rather, it is a bull-sh*t diagnosis that can cruelly impact anyone from tiny toddlers to aging grandparents, and once it lands all you can do is your very best to improve your odds of eliminating the disease.

In the same way, you could be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and therefore motivated to radically transform your diet to improve your health outcome. No one would say you’re “battling diabetes”, but it’s the same scenario.

My dear old dad had what he called “a touch of cancer” 15 years ago. Thanks to incredible doctors, swift surgery and ongoing treatment, he was in remission within six months. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer almost five years ago, we knew the prognosis wasn’t good. Somehow, miraculously, through extensive chemotherapy, radiation and a decent helping of alternative therapies, he lived another four years.

When he passed away six months ago, I can say with 100% confidence that he did not “lose his battle” with cancer. He spent four years living with cancer and in that time, he rallied against it with everything he had… and then he died. His positivity, strength and determination were inspirational, so to imply that he “lost his battle” is a bit of an insult.

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