RYAN Tubridy was talking about the death of Laura Brennan on his morning radio show last week.
Laura was only 26 years old when she died, and she was one of Ireland’s leading patient advocates and a HPV vaccine campaigner.
She was a remarkable young lady who suffered from cervical cancer and campaigned for young women to take the HPV vaccine to protect them from the type of cancer that ended her short life.
Tubridy was explaining how he had met Laura on a number of occasions and had been very taken with her positivity and sense of humour. He was expressing how he felt about her passing but then faltered slightly and commented that he was being careful about what he said because he was conscious of how some cancer patients talk about their illness.
He was reluctant to speak in terms of ‘fighter’, ‘fighting’ and ‘battling’ because people with cancer tend to hate using those words. I’m paraphrasing here but that was the gist of what he said.
Tubridy was speaking in glowing terms of this young lady, who obviously made an impression on him, yet he couldn’t speak freely for fear of upsetting some other cancer patients, or people in the medical profession, who have taken it upon themselves to decide for the rest of us that sufferers can be offended by certain words or phrases.
Political correctness exponents have once again pounced on language they consider to be offensive, hurtful or inappropriate, and have made it difficult for us to show support for those with cancer. It’s being suggested that we should stop using terms like ‘fighting’ cancer and instead, treat it like any other illness.
Who comes up with this kind of rubbish?
This only succeeds in making people feel more uncomfortable when offering good wishes to someone they know is dealing with cancer.
This is nonsense and it infuriates me that some people insist on telling the rest of us what to say and how we should say it.
Simon Jenkins reported in The Guardian that people with cancer are fed up with the language of war. A poll conducted by Macmillan Cancer Support found that many people with cancer are fed up with it and want to be treated like anyone else who is ill.
He says the taboo that surrounds cancer is still intense.
Until the middle of the last century, its apparent incurability made it the great unmentionable and that taboo still turns initial diagnosis of the commonest and most curable cancers, such as breast, bowel, lung and prostate, into a devastating blow that can be treated as a premonition of death by family and friends.
Jenkins reported that a sensible approach to cancer should owe less to the language of the Pentagon and more to a local GP surgery. It would comfort thousands of ordinary mortals, who want to handle this illness like any other. In most cases, this means: “Have you a cancer? I am so sorry, when are they taking it out?”
Now, here’s the thing. I find all that nonsense offensive and I’m not easily offended.
I think it’s about time that we put a stop to these ‘vocabulary police’, as I saw them described, and told them to mind their own business and keep their opinions to themselves.
Cancer is personal, and I know that having been through it myself — and even though I was at the lower end of the scale, I was still worried.
I knew in my heart and soul that prostate cancer was very treatable if it was caught in time, but that didn’t take away the fear because I have seen what cancer can do.
My sister died a young woman from breast cancer after many treatments and many years of fighting the disease.
Yes, she fought it, battled it and never gave up, but it beat her in the end.
Not because she ‘gave up’ or ‘lost the will’ or ‘failed’, it was just that the disease was too strong.
Asking her, “Have you a cancer? I am so sorry, when are they taking it out?” wouldn’t have been helpful.
She wanted more than anything to stay alive for her family, but she couldn’t, and she was extremely brave in the way she dealt with it. She was in her mid-forties with a husband and two young children.
My father and mother died from cancer too, and I was with them both from start to finish, so I don’t need anyone telling me how to speak to a cancer patient.
From my own perspective, I was only too delighted with the support I received. I appreciated it when people came up to me and wished me well.
It didn’t bother me what language they used or what form of words they chose, because I knew they were just being supportive. They meant well, whatever they said or however it came out.
It’s tough enough for family and friends having to cope with someone who is dealing with this illness, without adding the extra stress of having to worry about causing offence every time they open their mouths.
I put it out there when I had my surgery because I wanted to create awareness among men about prostate cancer. I have been contacted by many since then by phone, email and personally on the street and I have no difficulty discussing it with anyone and I tell it as it happened.
Some want to know about the symptoms, some about the surgery and others are more concerned with the aftermath.
It’s personal to them and everyone is different, and I’ll be completely honest with them.
There’s one thing for certain. I’ll never ask; “Have you a cancer? I am so sorry, when are they taking it out?”