Cancer: In Your Face – Too Much Power For One Word

It’s been a year since I was diagnosed with Leukemia. So far so good, as far as my physical health is concerned. But, cancer has changed me. The big “C” diagnosis has impacted my family and close friends, more than they let on. I see it in their eyes; I hear it in their voices – I feel it.  My heart still skips a beat, and my stomach still churns when I think about cancer or just hear the word, “cancer” , which is unfortunately, often these days.” I prefer the word leukemia over cancer. No matter how often I see, hear, or speak the word “cancer”, I just can’t seem to get comfortable with the way it makes me feel. Maybe I expect too much from myself.  The word “Cancer” is so powerful it seems to overwhelm any conversation with the slightest mention of the word. That’s a lot of power for one six letter word. Have you ever noticed the energy shift in a group or how the conversation subtly, yet, so obviously changes when the word “cancer”comes up? That’s because people are immediately frightened when faced with the terribly uncomfortable feelings of their own mortality. Cancer-In-Your-Face; I understand. We have long learned to be afraid of the word “cancer” and all that it implies; realistic or not.

Hippocrates gave cancer its name. He used the words “carcinos” and “carcinoma” to describe tumours — Greek words for crab.
Our fear of cancer is deeply rooted in history.
At the time, 400 B.C., cancer was discovered in the end stage, when tumours were a hard mass, like a crab’s shell. The sharp pain of end-stage cancer that patients described also reminded Hippocrates of the pinch of a crab’s claw. Hippocrates is best known not for his naming of cancer, but his admonition to physicians to above all, do no harm.
Right now, our crude, imprecise use of the term cancer is doing harm. The words we use need to reflect our knowledge, and influence practice.

Death is a natural fact of our life. Cancer is not (as common as it may seem) and remains downright terrifying. Obviously, we will all die from something. Naturally, we hope, we pray, we want to believe that our death outcome will be better than one caused by cancer. A tolerable death experience should occur in a timely, painless and peaceful manner. Why not?  Like, the way my grandmother lived and died. Happily living along to 85 or 95 and then, passing quietly during sleep. This would be a welcome blessing for most.

But, cancer? There is no blessing here. Leukemia I can deal with. Cancer? Not so much!
Would cancer by any other name be less frightening? Perhaps yes, maybe no. The dreaded word “cancer” and all of it’s evilness has been pounded into our brains as something to fear and literally scares the crap out of us.
Barry B. Gallagher, author of The Secrets of Life Power, says, “Some words are so powerful that they can create instant emotion. The word cancer is a vivid illustration of this concept. If a doctor told you that you had cancer, you would experience instant fear that would turn into depression, depending on what else the doctor told you about the type of cancer and chances for survival. The meaning that most people attach to these six letters can be devastating. I don’t believe that many people have learned to associate anything positive with the term cancer.”

Mr. Gallagher, you are dead on! This is exactly how I experienced the word cancer when it was handed to me. I have always thought of myself as a person who manages others words and their impact quite well.  Again, probably expecting too much from myself. We don’t hear nearly as much good about cancer as we do bad. When I first heard the word cancer and witnessed cancer at MD Anderson, my thoughts immediately took me to a horrible premature death…friends and family members who had suffered painstakingly through treatment and eventually died. Devastated loved ones left behind. We, as a society, have a long way to go and much to learn, if we are ever going to successfully change the way people respond to the word “cancer”.

Gallagher goes on to say, “This powerful word creates intense fear and worry because of the uncertainty it creates in the life of the victim and his or her family.” No kidding!
According to the American Cancer Society; Cancer Facts and Figures for 2012, approximately 1,638,910 new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2012.  For every one of those people, the cancer diagnosis will pack a punch. When you hear the words “you have cancer,” the assumption is that you’re going to suffer and you’re going to die prematurely.
“For many, many “cancers,” that simply isn’t true any more.” According to acclaimed health writer ANDRÉ PICARD of The Globe and Mail.  ”So, should we be telling folks with abnormalities or weird-looking cells that they have cancer? This is a question that health professionals, activists and patients themselves are increasingly struggling with.”  Essentially, we need a new cancer lexicon — one in which the language reflects the knowledge of the 21st century, not the fears of 400 B.C.
I couldn’t agree more!
I will be traveling  back to MD Anderson soon for my one year check up. Of course, I’m not looking forward to the trip, the tests, and the whole surreal cancer experience, but at least I know what to expect. And, I know that I’m fortunate. I’ll let you know how the journey goes.  I’m sure to return with plenty of interesting writing material!
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  1. Allison, this post is honest, up front, and right on! I was mindless that your article: “Cancer in Your Face” was a personal journey, and I avoided reading it for awhile. When I did, I was literally taken into a world of great courage and amazing candor. I also regretted not reading it sooner. I agree with you about the power of words, and I think it’s because emphasis is always heaped upon the negative. I drew strength from your writing and from you. Since many of my friends have leukemia, and are doing well, responding now is easier. You are remarkable in so many ways, and thank you for sharing your fears and vulnerabilities: we can all empathize.
    With love, in friendship, in hope, and in prayers, thank you for being you.

    Peace, Shalom, and Shanti

  2. Allison, I honor you for sharing the depth of your feelings and experience with us. I honor your courage in facing this disease and living abundantly, honestly and joyously through it. You have increased our awareness of cancer and how it is handled in the medical world. I am actually going to work with people with ovarian cancer (with EFT) at The Rose Cancer Center next week, so your article has deepened my understanding. I am grateful for your sharing on so many levels. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you now and as you get your year check up at MD Anderson.

    Much love and light is sent your way,
    Brenda Strausz

    • Thank you Brenda! How wonderful that you will be helping in such a supportive way – they are so lucky to be working with you. Would you like to write about your experience with EFT and how this helps cancer patients? Our readers would love it! Xoxo Best of luck. Allison

  3. Thanks Al, for sharing about where you are both emotionally and physically. Your post was spot on. I always wondered about that saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. They do hurt! Interestingly enough, look how being HIV+ no longer instills the great fears it once did. Granted if one is HIV+ he must take a cocktail of drugs and there are still health issues, but it is no longer an instant death sentence. The term “cancer” is clearly outdated for widespread usage. I, for one, will welcome a change in its usage.

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