Dana Jennings, a reporter at the New York Times, has been chronicling his diagnosis and treatment for prostate cancer. This week, though, he wrote about language:
We’re all familiar with sentences like this one: Mr. Smith died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. We think we know what it means, but we read it and hear it so often that it carries little weight, bears no meaning. It’s one of the clichés of cancer.
It is easy shorthand. But it says more about the writer or speaker than it does about the deceased. We like to say that people “fight” cancer because we wrestle fearfully with the notion of ever having the disease. We have turned cancer into one of our modern devils.
But after staggering through prostate cancer and its treatment — surgery, radiation and hormone therapy — the words “fight” and “battle” make me cringe and bristle.