This is a blog written by Janie Swingle who is a student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota and is interning with the Bruce Kramer Collaborative.
“I’m going to fight this.” “I don’t want to lose.” “She battled long and hard.”
Are we talking about gladiator combat or a disease diagnosis? When you think about it, we seem to employ similar language when discussing both a soldier on the front lines and a patient diagnosed with a terminal illness. Is that helpful or hurtful?
Therein lies a potential discordance. What if, by jumping to ‘battle language’ too often, we introduce an automatic and potentially unnecessary layer of aggression to our concept of disease? We directly create and influence our ideas of disease--or anything--by the words we choose to describe it. If talking to someone diagnosed with terminal cancer, I may not be surprised to hear something like, “I’m ready to fight. I know the battle will be hard, but I’m going to try.” But what if I heard, “I’ll certainly be living differently now. I’m preparing to make adjustments and feel content to become accustomed to new aspects of life.” The latter response is less common, is it not?
Our battle language may convey an underlying fear--of giving up, or of having others give up on us--that surely presents itself in cases of terminal illness. By speaking of perseverance, fighting, and not giving up, we find encouragement and hope, but we may also fall short of seeing illness, recovery, and death as parts of life rather than obstacles, victories, and failures. We don’t often consider disease as a new way of living. Instead, we jump to describing it as a fight against an enemy--death. Thus terminal illness becomes the opposite of living fully, as if the two cannot harmoniously coexist, and one must win. Who are we battling, anyway? Ourselves? Our own lives?
This is not to say that everyone will or should respond to disease similarly. Perhaps fighting words serve some people well, and these people may find strength and joy in their experience. But for others, living with disease may be more fulfilling if our culture didn’t excessively resist acceptance. We could collectively reframe our concept of disease by actively recognizing our language choices and exploring how they affect what we think of living with disease.
After all, as Bruce Kramer explained, aren’t we all living with disease of some kind? Illness is part of life for all of us in some form or another, and rallying the metaphorical troops to fight a metaphorical battle may sometimes be energizing. However, we should take caution not to let our language exclude experiences of disease as simply experiences that are not made any more or less victorious by their outcomes.
The Blog Authors
Bruce started writing about living with ALS shortly after being diagnosed in 2010. The blog is called the "Dis Ease Diary."
Cathy is a journalist so she's used to writing. Blogging is different because it feels so personal and that can be scary. Bear with her. She'll figure it out!
You may hear from Ev from time to time. Ev is Bruce's beloved wife. She's a music teacher at a French immersion school.