Absolutely nothing! (With apologies to the Animals, I think).

Over the weekend I revisited Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor. I meant also to look at AIDS and Its Metaphors, but didn’t get that far. It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything with more substance than a Facebook page. Then I read through the first few chapters of Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors we Live By. Didn’t quite get far enough on that one, although the categorization of metaphors is really quite interesting.

I’ve written about this before. I have a problem with the whole War on Cancer/Race for the Cure/Cancer Survivor thing. Military frames play a big part in medicine – we fight disease, we win or lose wars against this, that and the other thing, and we survive. So the assumption is that you can win or lose against cancer (and other diseases). Winning is a cure, and losing is death or maybe recurrence. But also, as Sontag points out, cancer is evil, wicked. The enemy. Those of us with cancer have this evil in our bodies. It must be exorcised, excised, poisoned, removed, stopped. And treatments do this – chemotherapy aims to cease cell division and thus growth. Radiation targets, blasts, shoots.

The problem is in our bodies. Does that mean there is something intrinsically bad about us that has caused this evil to invade our bodies. Invasion, takeover, etc, etc. I don’t like the idea of assessing blame on something which is still a random, probabalistic event.

I want to help my body heal. I don’t want to kill parts of my body, and I don’t want this conflict within. I continue to search for the words that I am comfortable with, but I still can’t find them – war and battle images are too strong. Perhaps for me the answer is to just not think of it. I go to chemo, I have my treatment, and at the end I’ve reduced my risk. Do I need more imagery than simply believing that the treatments will work? Do I have to visualize them? I don’t know the answer.

As it happens, war and disease seem to mirror each other In the 21st century – even in the late 20th, we began to experience conflicts without a clear-cut enemy. Think Vietnam as one of the first. Maybe even earlier wars had this – I am not a student of military history.

After the cold war, we lost our bad guys – no more communists. Who are the guys in the black hats? It’s no longer clear. Just as cancer becomes a chronic disease that is treated multiple times, war becomes a series of engagements, interactions. Blasting the enemy off the face of the earth becomes less effective, so often because the good guys are blasted away too. And this is a metaphor of chemotherapy. Especially with the older anthracyclines and the other stuff like cytoxan (alkalyzing agents? ), “good cells” such as white and red blood cells, mucosal linings in the digestive system and mouth, and hair are killed off during cell division. Chemotherapy as yet does not differentiate between cancer and non cancer cells – it seeks out, finds and stops cell division no matter the sort of cell. It is rather like shooting fish in a barrel. But it’s what we have and thankful for it.

I still don’t like the idea of war in my body. Still, fighting disease is so ingrained into my own language that I am fighting a disease sometimes, and describing myself as “strong” is a good thing. Now, however I view strength as listening to my body, and taking care of it – getting enough rest, eating well, and making sure I call my doctor when I don’t feel well. Not letting myself suffer needlessly. I am giving my body all the resources and strength it needs to fight disease.

Well, this is definitely a work in progress… or a think in progress anyway…. More soon.