There is ongoing international discussion in specialized circles about how we communicate with children and adolescents about cancer. Over the years, various phrases have been consistently used with the aim of instilling a sense of fighting spirit and ambition in young patients, even among adults.
This is precisely the topic of discussion for the month of August, proposed by Childhood Cancer International, the largest patient support organization for childhood cancer: THE “BATTLE OF WAR” LANGUAGE used in conversations with patients.
Effective and sensitive communication is of crucial importance when interacting with patients diagnosed with cancer, especially with children. In an attempt to motivate and support patients during their treatments, the “battle of war” language, such as “fighting cancer” and “survivor,” has often been used. However, these terms can have negative implications for the emotional and mental well-being of patients, especially the young ones.
Fighting Cancer: A Highly Loaded Term
The term “fighting cancer” may suggest strong determination and a will to overcome the illness. However, using this language can impose a sense of pressure on patients, especially children, who might feel they need to behave as fearless warriors facing a daunting disease. Additionally, this terminology may imply that those who do not successfully “fight” cancer are less worthy or less resolute. This can lead to feelings of guilt or failure when treatment is not successful.
For children, the pressure to “fight” can be overwhelming. They might feel responsible for treatment failure or undesirable outcomes. This can negatively impact their self-esteem and quality of life during the treatment period.
Survivor: A Term with Emotional Weight
The term “survivor” is often used to describe those who have successfully battled cancer and entered remission. However, this term can carry complex emotional implications. For some patients, it can remind them of the difficult and painful moments they went through, bringing back memories of the traumas they endured. It can also generate pressure to appear strong and optimistic at all times, even when facing fears and uncertainties related to relapse.
For children, the term “survivor” can add additional pressure for them to conceal their emotions or deny their fear. They might feel the need to behave as fearless heroes, even though they actually need a safe space to express their fears and concerns.
Negative Implications of the Language of Fight
Excessive use of fighting language can contribute to stigmatizing cancer patients who do not respond to treatments or who do not achieve remission. This can create a sense of isolation and guilt among these patients, jeopardizing their mental well-being. In the case of children, this pressure and stigmatization can have long-term effects on their emotional and psychological development.
Furthermore, the continued use of “battle of war” language can downplay the importance of emotional and psychological aspects of the patient’s experience, focusing exclusively on the physical aspects of the illness. This can lead to the neglect or underestimation of their mental and social needs, which are equally important as medical treatment.
Empathetic and sensitive communication is essential in managing cancer patients, especially children. While the intention behind the “battle of war” language may be to provide support and motivation, it’s important to be aware of the potential negative implications these terms can have on patients. Instead of using language that imposes pressure or stigmatizes, we should focus on providing emotional support and encouraging patients to openly express their fears and needs. By doing so, we will contribute to a more positive and balanced experience for cancer patients, especially children.