“Survivor” rhetoric harms cancer patients

I am washing my hands in the bathroom at Betty Danger’s, during Mother’s Day brunch. A woman, about 40 or so, also washing her hands, tells me I look “so beautiful.”

I look at the reflection of my lumpy, patchy bald head with a four-inch scar stretched across the top. The scar really emphasizes my eyes that haven’t slept a full night in weeks that look like two piss holes in the snow of my pale skin.

I wasn’t “so beautiful.” I was sick, and everybody could tell. This woman could tell.

I was always a “good cancer patient.” I wore a pink wig and, when I didn’t, I embraced my bald head. I didn’t talk about recovering from brain surgery, or my invasive egg-freezing ultrasounds (chemo makes women infertile).

I accepted all of the “fighter,” “warrior” and “survivor” labels. Now I wish I hadn’t.

When someone gets a cold, you don’t tell them to “stay positive!”, or “keep fighting!”, or call them “survivors” when they don’t have a cold anymore.

I don’t speak for all cancer patients, but in my mind, the vernacular surrounding people (particularly women) with cancer is benevolent victim blaming.

When we give people the idea that anyone can overcome cancer as long as they fight hard enough, we’re lying. When we say someone’s positive attitude contributed to their treatment, we’re lying.

“That’s shitty”. Next time someone tells you they have cancer, say those words. I wish more people would have said that to me because it was. Having cancer is shitty, and whether or not you’re optimistic has no bearing on your survival.

Companies try to sell cancer patients and their loved ones products based on vague ideas of survivor-ship, hope, togetherness and love. These words, implied or written on a t-shirt, are comforting. They make it easy not to think about how gross and awful cancer is.

We’re sedated by these cancer words, and it’s time to wake up and do something about it.

The disease has been sanitized, painted pink, and served back to us at a Susan G. Komen benefit brunch.

What if we rejected these ideas; these walks, these ribbons? What if we started wondering out loud how in the world we’re allowing our own cells to kill us?

I want ugly protests, violent riots, and picket signs all demanding a cure. I want carcinogens out of deodorant, out of makeup, out of cleaning supplies and shampoo. Out of plastic water bottles and out of that yogurt that donates money to “defeating breast cancer.”

I have a brain cancer that claims most of its victims, many diagnosed in their 20’s or 30’s, and while it’s stable right now, it will kill me one day.

I am not ashamed to die, I am ashamed to live without fighting back; not against my cancer, but against the people and organizations that spend precious dollars on sedating the dying.

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