How we speak about cancer: The Power of Words

Often, the words we choose to talk about a specific topic can change the way we think and our attitude towards it.

I remember how in Spain, well into the nineties, when a woman died due to domestic violence and abuse, the term used by the media was "crimes of passion". Many women had to die from these so-called ‘crimes of passion’ for the media to start calling them ‘domestic violence’ and then later ‘sexist violence’. It was from this that society gradually became aware of the problem, it was given visibility and finally, in the early 2000s a law against gender violence was passed. It was via this change in the language that we became socially aware.

Like this one, we could name hundreds of examples of how society’s views are shaped by the language used. Sophie Trew knows what the power of words can do and has decided to open a discussion about the language used to talk about cancer.

How many times have we not heard the phrases: “they’ve lost their battle with cancer”, “fuck you cancer”, “all of us against cancer”, “the fight against cancer”? We’ve constructed an aggressive narrative around an issue that affects more people every day.

But why may you ask is it necessary to change the language we are using? Why should we change the way in which we see cancer? According to Sophie and others affected by cancer, the way in which people start treating you when they find out that you are ill radically changes. Cancer is an illness that can make you feel very lonely. Your life is put on hold during treatment and all you wish for is a to feel normal. When you’re ill, hearing things like “they lost their battle with cancer” does not help with that.

Media and society have created an enemy: cancer. Something you have to go to war with, something you have to fight battles with. But like Sophie says, cancer is just about your cells losing their direction. Who wants to fight a battle against their own self? Who wants to turn their body into a battlefield?

“I was not at battle with my body” was what Sophie said to us. “Instead of making an enemy out of a disease what if we can work with it and work towards solving why it happens and putting things right?” Sometimes we forget that cancer patients haven’t stopped being who they were before their diagnoses and we let cancer define them and their existence. Without a doubt the language used is responsible for this. Why don’t we, as Sophie suggests, think about the way in which we speak about cancer and try and change it to be more helpful. One that focuses on the causes, that looks for ways in preventing it and recovering from it, and most importantly that teaches us to listen to our bodies.

In the third episode of our DOCCO Trew Health, Sophie tells all about her experience with this. Once again, thank you for being part of this journey. Here is the link for you to watch it in case you’ve missed it:

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