om_ohm_aum_symbol_square_sticker_3_x_3I’ve long been one to defend the rights of all cancer patients (and everyone, for that matter) to self-identify with whatever language makes sense for them. I certainly won’t judge those who identify as victim or survivor. But I know many, many patients – especially metastatic patients – who loathe the war analogies. Yet I haven’t been able to reject them out of hand. I think, in part, because sometimes this disease does feel like a battle and that I’m fighting for my life and in part because it has become so engrained in our collective psyche that we don’t really have much to replace it with.

But during last night’s restorative yoga class, which I really wanted to skip out on, things started to make sense. Unfortunately it meant my mind was racing throughout the class, but if that leads to clarity, so be it.

I don’t know how cancer came into the studio with me, perhaps the news of a friend starting hospice and another prepared to die. In death language becomes even more important. We risk blaming the patient for not fighting hard enough or losing the battle. I know what I don’t want said about me, but I’m not sure what I do want said.

So in that yoga class…the room is dimly lit, my eyes are closed and hands open, I breathe. Breathing is good… The instructor tells us to surrender our bodies to the earth, allow gravity to pull us down and hold our weight.


Imagine a battlefield. You’re hunkered down with your troops – the enemy is out there, but you don’t quite know where. You could be attacked tonight or ambushed on a mission tomorrow. Every sound makes you jump, so you keep your gun close. You’ve lost friends already, and you may be next. But for now you’re one of the lucky ones – you’re still fighting. Which is to say, you’re giving everything you have to win, irrespective of the toll it might take, the damage to oneself and others, be their comrades or enemies. Win, lose, draw – on a micro level war is only destructive.

I let my body sink into the ground, I recognize that I’m not in control of my fate. I eat well, exercise sorta, take my meds, and fervently hope for the best, which often borders on praying.I do what I can, but I don’t allow cancer to control me. Sometimes you just need a glass of wine or a chocolate bar. So be it.

But what if we put the guns away? Set down our swords and spears? What if we seek peace, at any price, rather than another fight? What happens to us if we don’t fight? Does that mean we’ve given up, or does it mean that we’re wise enough to see that fighting sucks precious energy, leads our attention away from enjoying life? 

I have always tried to steer clear of battle language, but in thinking about what it means to surrender, to truly let go, I see even more clearly how I cannot do both at once. Life isn’t about living to fight another day, rather it is about living each day fully, building rather than breaking down, honoring growth over death.

I’m not fighting – I’m living. That will have to be language enough…


What do you think? Can you, at once, live life to the fullest and be engaged in battle? And if war metaphors don’t work for you, what does?

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Laura
    Apr 25, 2016 @ 15:32:55

    I have never been comfortable with ”fighting’ cancer. I do what the doctors tell me, but who wins cancer – when it wants to kick your ass – it will. (I’m stage 4, by the way.). I have been in a very good place for the last few months after feeling like I’ve lost so much, then surrendering to the way things are – giving up resistance to the way things are. Your words today have put it so clearly and much better than I could put what I have been feeling. Thank you.


  2. janesplain
    Apr 25, 2016 @ 15:57:23

    I completely understand this is a personal choice and me saying my belief does not diminish what others feel. I loathe the ‘losing the battle to cancer’ euphemism seen so often in obits. OTOH I often feel in battle mode when things get tough. I wouldn’t mind my obit saying And with that last breath she won her battle with cancer by killing it dead, unfortunately she gave her life in the process.”


    • Lori
      Apr 25, 2016 @ 16:00:28

      What a thought-provoking perspective. Of course, you’re exactly right – and yet I can’t think of an instance where that was written. Thanks so much for sharing!


  3. Rabbi John Crites-Borak
    Apr 25, 2016 @ 16:41:39

    Dear Lori,

    I just finished reading your latest post, the one about using battle terminology. This brought my recently-deceased friend Keith to mind. And with his memory it brought the irony that though he was once a Navy flier who actually engaged in battle as a young man, he chose not to fight his cancer. Keith allowed his body to muster whatever resources it could against his cancer, but he chose neither to engage in that battle nor even to provide encouragement to his body’s defenses. When it came to his cancer he was as neutral as Sweden, as calm as a round of Gruyère. “The only difference between you and me,” he once said as we ate lunch together, “is that I know approximately when I’m going to die.” I asked him about fighting the disease. He’d watched a wife fight hard against cancer and die an ugly, prolonged death. He didn’t want any part of that. Not for himself, not for his current wife or for his family, so he took whatever meds he needed to manage the pain (and the fear, I suppose, though I never saw any in him), and he remained the Keith I had known for 44 years until the very end.

    I sometimes asked myself if his choice amounted to surrender. How could it be, I wondered, that a man I knew to be a warrior could accept with his fate such grace and finality? It *looked* like surrender, but it never felt that way. In my mind I see him strapped into his fighter jet, methodically (and calmly) going through the pre-flight checklists, settling in to be catapulted over the bow of the ship to begin another mission over Hanoi. Each time it happened he knew he might not return. Many did not. He never rejected his fate, never surrendered to it, but met it on his own terms. It is a kind of fighting different from what is found in the trenches: one day you launch into the sky and simply don’t come back.

    Others choose the infantry, the hand-to-hand combat that leaves wounds and scars and carnage. The courage is more visible, and more painful to observe. It is more inspiring, too, if I may dare to speak as one who can participate only from a distance.

    You all amaze me, all of you who live with the knowledge of this cruel emperor who tirelessly seeks to dominate and crush you. Whatever metaphors you all need to identify yourselves within the cosmos, whatever words lend you an ability to steady yourselves and to purchase solid ground, if only from moment to moment, are fine with me. Stoic warrior to bare-knuckled brawler, you all amaze me. You all inspire me, and I love you for teaching me how to live with dignity, honor and courage no matter what the circumstances.



    • Lori
      Apr 25, 2016 @ 17:11:12

      You make an interesting point about “surrender.” For some it is giving up, for others giving in, and for others still it is letting go. Thank you for the insight, and I am so sorry for your loss.


  4. Katie
    Apr 25, 2016 @ 17:05:57

    I don’t have an answer to your questions – just wanted you to know this is beautiful. Om shanti shanti shanti.


  5. jbaird
    Apr 26, 2016 @ 09:40:22

    All these replies, metaphorically or not, are appropriate in my view. I don’t mind wielding a virtual battleaxe once in a while in a fit of frustration and self pity. We are expressing ourselves in ways that make sense to us as we unfold our unique personalities. Thanks for your beautiful thoughts and insights into the metastatic world of unknowns.


    • Lori
      Apr 26, 2016 @ 09:57:26

      I agree, Jan. The wonderful things about language is the opportunity to find words that are just right for each of us – and for the moment we are in. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!



  6. Stacey Kruckel
    Apr 27, 2016 @ 21:21:08

    Hi Lori: thanks for writing such a beautiful post.


    • Lori
      Apr 28, 2016 @ 13:27:13

      Thanks for reading, Stacey! Hope all is well with you and yours – it seems you are taking full advantage of your sorjurn in Europe!!


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