I just saw that Dana Jennings, who writes a blog about his prostate cancer for the NYT, is discussing language and cancer.  So I recycled this essay I wrote some time back.

It amazes me that doctors still use the word biochemical failure to refer to a recurrence of prostate cancer.  A doctor told me, “It’s a shame this word escaped from the lab”.  I know that when we got hubby’s  post-surgery positive PSA  I was depressed because the word “failure” kept on going round and round in my mind. We got an “F” in prostate cancer.

“Recurrence” on the other hand, is almost good word. It sounds like an old friend has come back to stay with you.  (OK, it’s a stretch.) 

And may I ask, what do they call death if recurrence is “biochemical failure”?   “Biochemical catastrophe,” maybe? “Biological Armaggedon”?

My husband’s surgery failed, and so he had to have “salvage radiation“.  This term is a favorite.  Sounds like they gave him rad in the junkyard?

Seriously, the language of cancer is something we need to talk about

Language affects the way we cope with disease.   A writer named Susan  Sontag, who struggled with cancer for years, wrote a book called “Illness as a metaphor”  which describes how cancer has been demonized, in part because of the language associated with it.

Wouldn’t you feel better if you had a neoplasm”?  That’s the scientific word for “new growth”, which is what you have.  I can just see the buds, little sprouts.  And we don’t need to worry about dumping “cancer” because it has no scientific meaning.  Cancer means “crab”, because some Greek thought it resembled one.

Other diseases have undergone verbal makeovers.  “Leprosy” is now “Hansen’s Disease“.  And “senility” has become “Alzheimer’s.”  I think these ch