Some years ago the Cancer Council of Australia ran an advertising campaign based on the phrase “Cancer: It’s a word not a sentence”. Clever in a sort of pretty unsubtle way of course, it was used to mark a change from the days when the only possible response to cancer was a kind of surgical blitzkrieg, the chances of success low, to those where new chemical and radiation treatments began to be introduced and refined, either to improve the success of surgical intervention, or as stand-alone procedures. Remission periods grew longer, outright cures became possible, so the Cancer Council was right to tell people not to despair that they were doomed when the doctor uttered that doom-laden C-word, but to be optimistic, to have hope the treatment could be worthwhile.
But, leaving behind the intended meaning of the slogan, that cancer is no longer, necessarily, a [Death] Sentence, the phrase is completely wrong. Cancer isn’t a word, it is a sentence. Unlike getting an injury, or breaking a bone, or catching an infection, for all of which there is treatment and cure, quickly over, something barely remembered a few years later, cancer is ongoing, unforgettable, a long sentence, a life sentence. And here it is:
Cancer is: having a series of increasingly unpleasant tests, waiting anxiously for the results, then watching as the oncologist’s face goes grim as he reads them; spending a day every couple of weeks hooked up to a bag of nasty chemicals by a sharp needle in your hand or arm; never feeling well for months at a time while treatment proceeds, and constantly feeling anxious that you will suddenly feel worse and have to be rushed off to hospital; spending your life moving from one doctor’s waiting room to the next, one testing facility to the next; suffering from a series of debilitating after-effects, conditions and diseases that your depleted immune system no longer copes with; worrying that every symptom you get, once dismissed as some minor ailment, might be the cancer returning; knowing that there are cancer cells always lurking somewhere in your body waiting to burst out and start a cellular revolution at any time; never really feeling well, and so reluctant to do once-normal activities; dealing with the concerns of family and friends.
Some sentence, eh?