Cancer is never far from the headlines but in the last week, between the sad death of Lynda Bellingham and Channel 4's Stand up to Cancer, it has been even more topical. Whilst it's a good thing that cancer, and the effect it has on people, is being discussed, one thing has troubled me throughout the coverage.
Most people are affected by cancer in one way or another. Over one in three of us are likely to be diagnosed with cancer at one point in our lives, but many more of us will be see someone we care about go through the ordeal. Since I am no exception, cancer has claimed someone very important to me.
My grandfather - the closest thing I'd had to a father - was, and remains to be, my hero. I saw cancer claim his body, but I never saw him lose.
He was a strong and loving man. A rock at the heart of our family. After many years of fighting skin cancer, which spread to other areas of his body, he grew physically weaker to the point where he needed around the clock care. The cancer had devastated his body and the pain was apparent.
Throughout all of this, however, he never lost his resolve to fight or determination to live his life as best he could. He remained the strong and loving man that he'd always been. He faced cancer with dignity and strength, and by that marker, when he died he did not lose. Therefore, I found it difficult when people referred to him having lost his battle.
The term 'lost their battle with cancer' is a common phrase applied to people who have died as a result of the terrible disease. Most recently the phrase was used in headlines regarding the passing of Lynda Bellingham.
The expression is often used to express regret or in a context of celebration of the deceased, however, it carries ulterior implications, even if they are unintended by the user. Describing people to have 'lost' to cancer suggests that they could have done something differently and the outcome could be changed. It suggests that it might have been possible to win, almost places blame on the person for their death from cancer, when the outcome is largely out of their hands.
Despite the incredible strides that have been made in combating cancer, we still can't cure cancer. All we can do is treat it and sometimes this isn't enough. Only half of people diagnosed with cancer survive for ten years or more.
More so, the expression bothers me because surely to win or lose over cancer should be defined by the dignity and strength in which people approach the disease.
It is not a black and white game where either you win, and survive, or you lose, and die. 'Victory' over cancer should not be narrowly defined to those who survive. A person's battle with cancer, should be defined by the way they lived despite their illness rather than that they eventually die because of it.
My grandfather had been diagnosed with cancer a long time before we began to notice any difference because he refused to let it steal away the joy in his life. He endeavored to live the time he had left well, even when he was bedridden and in tremendous pain.
The way that someone lived is far more important than how they eventually died. Their life should be our focus, rather than their deaths. That is how we can honour each person for their achievements, and who they were, instead of how cancer eventually took them.
In my view, my grandfather beat cancer because he didn't let it change who he was. The fact that his life was cut short does not detract from the inspirational way that he faced it.
Likewise the men, women and children that featured on Stand up to cancer, whether they survive or not, will have overcome cancer with their willingness to fight and resolve to not let cancer rob them of the life they have left. They didn't lose.