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Telling patients to 'fight' cancer puts them under pressure

Published 4 Oct 2018 • Updated 23 May 2019 • By Josephine O'Brien

Telling patients to 'fight' cancer puts them under pressure

Cancer patients should not be told to “fight” their disease because doing so puts them under “exhausting pressure”, Macmillan Cancer Support has said.

cancer

The charity warned that framing cancer in terms of a battle leaves patients feeling guilty for admitting fear and often prevents them planning properly for their death.

Macmillan said thousands of sufferers were unnecessarily dying in hospital rather than their own home each year because of a “gulf in communication” towards the end of life.

Experts last night called for a cultural change around cancer so patients no longer feel compelled to put on a brave face.

Research commissioned by the charity reveals nearly two thirds of sufferers never talk to anyone about their fears of dying due to the pressure to see themself as a “fighter”.

Meanwhile 28 per cent reported feelings of guilt if they cannot stay positive about their disease.

Adrienne Betteley, end-of-life care advisor at Macmillan, said: “We know that “battling” against cancer can help some people remain upbeat about their disease, but for others the effort of keeping up a brave face is exhausting and unhelpful in the long-term."

The report said the pressure to stay positive and support people to “fight” cancer was one of the biggest barriers to holding conversations about dying, even in patients who had already received a terminal diagnosis.

We need to let people define their own experiences without using language that might create a barrier to vital conversations about dying,” said Ms Betteley.

For health and social care professionals, there is often a fear that the person is not ready to talk about dying.

We know, however, that making plans while receiving treatment allows people with cancer to retain a sense of control during an emotionally turbulent time.”

What do you think about this? Do you think it is time to change the language surrounding cancer? Many people on Twitter talked about how you "don't lose a battle against a heart attack" so why do we use this language with cancer?

Telegraph.co.uk

avatar Josephine O'Brien

Author: Josephine O'Brien, Community Manager UK

Josephine is the Community Manager of the UK with a Master’s in Publishing. She is a strong believer in the power of words and strives to make Carenity UK a comforting, vibrant and informative community for both... >> Learn more

11 comments


JosephineO • Community manager
on 05/10/2018

@maddoglady‍ @robjmckinney‍ @Paulineashort‍ @Waterford48‍ @masoka‍ @Skator‍ @Margaret1‍ @DianaFM‍ @iamised‍ @Jellag‍ @Rosha43‍ @Nicnocnoo‍ @DianaFM‍ @Oldenglish1‍ @mikesalmons‍ @Dee237‍ @AngieHall‍ @Beagle01‍ @Marney‍ 

Hello everyone,

I hope you don't mind me tagging you in this post. I just wanted to draw your attention to this interesting article and get your opinions about it!


robjmckinney • Ambassador
on 05/10/2018

My brother fought right to the end not believing this was the end. A young inexperienced Doctor finally said there was nothing they could do, he lost all hope and died within two weeks, a broken man. For some people to fight the appalling experience of the treatment they need to fight and be positive as it would break you. Myself I accepted my fate and was at peace whatever the outcome. I had a killer cancer and my brother had a cancer that people can live a normal life in most cases. Everyone is different and fight their battle their own way. But the treatment is so terrible, a positive mindset would good for the individual. The last day of treatment was such a relief yet my cleaners mother is on her sixth treatment, I could have never gone through that, ever. Macmillan I have always found useless, this is opinion nothing more, everyone is an individual. Their fight against cancer is a very personal one and so is the way they deal with it.


JosephineO • Community manager
on 05/10/2018

@robjmckinney Thank you for this feedback and sharing your story with us. I thought the article brought forth an interesting perspective but like you said, not one that a lot of cancer patients would agree with...

Do any other members have an opinion? 


maddoglady
on 07/10/2018

Firstly let me agree wholeheartedly with Rob's comment about Macmillan. Rob I think you are spot on they are useless!! Again just my opinion! 

I imagine that it was Macmillan that branded cancer treatment as a battle in the first place! 

I've been up against these daft attitudes to cancer treatment from the outset, it's a journey, a battle, an odyssey a voyage, no it's not it's a disease and everybody's experience of that disease will be very different. Giving it these sexy titles which sound good as a soundbyte or headline is hugely unhelpful.

Advertising campaigns which show all cancer patients as pale, bald sickly creatures smiling bravely through their tears whilst fighting the good fight make me want to scream!

The treatment is brutal, it will actually kill or might push you into remission if you're lucky. One thing is guaranteed medical professionals will still have no communication skills, you'll still be expected to sit about for hours waiting to be seen for appointments, scans, blood tests and at some point some overweight nurse will pay you on the hand, squeeze your arm or your leg and declare in a voice pitched high enough to break cut glass "There, there dear you're doing ever so well"

I echo Rob's sentiments everyone who is unfortunate enough to have cancer is an individual and how each individual chooses to approach and get through treatment is an individual choice, fight it, journey it makes no difference. Most days I approach it like a wolf with anger issues, some days I don't have the energy!


JanetteR
on 08/10/2018

There is a difference between being hopeful for treatment results and 'fighting a battle' - as other responses have shown, we all respond differently and cannot possibly predict from a position of health how we will react when we receive the diagnosis.  It's why patients and relatives should be consulted before such campaigns are designed and issued - not just a group of generic population sample.  

I've met some of the most positive people who had cancer (advanced) but it didn't change their outcome sadly - but I do believe that removing hope and being too blunt, can make some people totally give up and deteriorate rapidly.  Communication skills seem to focus on being clinically pessimistic (fear of litigation?) rather than realistic or citing examples that might help. 

The belief that we will all collapse, need an army of supporters around us and somehow will not benefit if our families are not involved too, is flawed.  Not everyone has a family, not everyone chooses to involve their family as the fallout and stress onto their health can also cause guilt with the patient themselves.  

My surgeon told me that a positive attitude would help but he didn't say it was essential.  I read widely after diagnosis and found some common areas that resonated with me that I followed but these also 'granted permission' for me to be myself, accept that some days are likely to be awful, and I approached it that however bad, tomorrow is another day and all things must pass.  In the start, it was an ordeal getting through the next few minutes, half hour, hour before I progressed to a day and then a week. It took years before I was able to look forward and plan a summer holiday and even now, find long term planning a real difficulty.  That's the legacy of having a cancer from which the majority of patients do not survive and the statistics can be very frightening.  I've also lost too many 'cancer' friends' from the same condition in the last few years so this isn't just statistics - as they all represent people.  However new treatments are being discovered all the time so some people are beating the odds and that gives others hope - I don't believe that should be taken away from people. 

There is a need for cancer charities to raise funds - I get that so tugging on heartstrings may be one way but some of the ways these are portrayed are unhelpful in the extreme. I prefer more recent campaigns acknowledging the patient is a person - father, grandad, friend, mum, daughter, sister, brother, etc - i.e. a person first and condition second.  

Last night I heard a parent of a young person with an allergy state on the radio that the stress of living with that (after the two cases where people have died) is like having PTSD in a warzone.  I think the general catastrophising of language in the media undermines those who genuinely fight battles in warzones or whatever and serves little purpose .  I received an online magazine this week that said some celebrity had devastating news so clicked on the story to find out their pet was ill. I guess it's all relative but a cancer diagnosis should not be as devastating for all cancers - for many there are really good treatments/survival rates but not for others.  Therefore like treatments, messages needs to be more personalised to each case... that takes skill and time - both of which are in short supply in the health service. 

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