Josh Friedman’s recent article for Time, “It’s Okay to Be a Coward About Cancer“, is an interesting piece about the language that surrounds the disease. It’s written from the perspective of someone who has experienced cancer for himself. In it, he takes issue with the dominant interpretative repertoires (*) of “fighting” and “surviving” the disease.
When I was first diagnosed with MCL, I initially adopted positions from the “fighting” repertoire. After all, it seems the logical thing to do. No-one wants to die from cancer – and not many people want to die, ever! “Fighting” is how I perceived that the majority of people were talking about the disease, and I started to talk about it in that way too.
However, over time, I started to think of myself as being more of a survivor than fighter. This was because I found it difficult to declare war on my own body, regardless of its faults. But even that phase didn’t last long. These days, given my current non-treatment status, I feel more comfortable with the idea that I’m “living” with the condition rather than fighting or surviving it. My twitter and facebook biographies have reflected this progression over the last three years since my diagnosis.
While understanding and respecting Josh’s position, I think that rejecting the dominant fighting and surviving repertoires as cowardice undersells his own strength. Coming to terms with cancer by rejecting the culturally dominant discourses is definitely not cowardice. Taking a position against what the majority believe to be commonsense is always hard.
I wish him and all other cancer patients well, regardless of their approach to coming to terms with the disease and their own mortality. After all, in the words of Brian, “You are all individuals, you don’t need to follow anybody!”
(*) For those of you who aren’t discursive psychologists, interpretative repertoires provide commonsense and relatively coherent ways of talking about a topic, providing a basis for shared understandings to be reached. They are culturally and historically situated – for example, it is unlikely that a Victorian would have talked about cancer in the same way as a citizen of the 21st century.