Sunday, 22 March 2009

Cancer Is Not Courageous

I don't want to say too much about Jade Goody, but I will say this.

If you can't think of anything genuine and nice to say about a seriously ill person, please don't patronise them with allegations of "bravery" or "courage". There is nothing brave or courageous about getting cancer. This The Onion report is fictional (and very funny, because we know that it's fictional). But it points to a truth: Cancer patients don't have a choice: to be brave and courageous, or to not. You can only possess a virtue, like bravery, if you choose to exercise it where someone lacking in that virtue may not. A cancer patient's "choice" is this - the Doctor says "you've got cancer"; then you deal with it. That's it. No virtue required.

I know that it's well-meaning, but it's a platitude. For what it's worth, a better compliment to reach for is probably "strength". It takes extra mental strength to get through something like cancer, to remain emotionally stable and to attempt to live as normally as possible despite it all. But unless our hypothetical cancer patient has run into a burning building or saved a drowning child from a lake, calling them "brave" or "courageous" is meaningless.

edit: this probably seems like a mean-spirited, unhelpful post, but it's just a personal bug-bear of mine. I had Leukaemia when I was younger and being constantly told I was brave was nice, but I knew it wasn't true.

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