Wednesday 20 November 2013

"After a long battle with cancer"

I have been first irritated, then increasingly dismayed, over a long period by announcements on the news about cancer deaths. When somebody dies, it is inevitably described as “after a long battle with cancer”. It is as if the word processor sees “died of cancer” or “died from cancer” and autocorrects implacably to “died-after-a-long-battle-with-cancer”. While some people do fight the disease with all the might at their disposal, it is not the only way of reacting. Some people take it philosophically, some ignore it, some have fun while they still can, some take it administratively, using the time they have left to organise their affairs. And there are many other ways of doing it. To have these many, many ways of dealing with the end of life reduced to one single trope and one single understanding cheapens the humanity of us all. I was heartened last month to see Wilko Johnson explaining why he turned down the offer of chemotherapy, and I bookmarked it to remind me to check how the news of his passing is announced when it finally happens.

And yesterday, in a lovely, and insightful, column on the BBC website, Andrew Graystone discussed his own reaction to cancer, and the trope of “battle”. I could have done without the headline to be honest “Viewpoint: Did Richard Nixon change the way people describe cancer?” but that does not detract from a sensitive discussion of the illness and human reaction to it. News editors, take note, please. It is not right that so many individual, passionate, poignant human stories should be reduced to the news editing equivalent of autopilot.

No comments: