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  • Madeleine Cowey

My thoughts on Bravery

"I think you're so brave".

This is a compliment I find very difficult to accept.

It may not even be meant as a 'compliment' as such, but even so it's never resonated well with me, no matter how many times I've been told it. I tell people my story and they say I'm brave, my family and loved ones continuously say it too - but am I?

I watched an episode of Coronation Street this week (don't judge me - it's great.), and one of the characters, Robert, has just found out that he might have testicular cancer. Not only is this extremely topical, it being Movember - the month in which the UK try to raise awareness for men's health - but some of the character's words also reminded me of something. He said:

"I'm banning the 'F' word. People don't die of cancer because they don't fight hard enough. They die because they're unlucky".

The 'F' word being 'fight'.

Cancer patients are always referred to as 'soldiers'. We're 'fighting' to survive, cancer is our enemy and our feat to get better is a 'battle'. Sure, cancer is definitely an enemy but I just can't relate to this analogy. One of my doctors used the word 'battle' and it made me shudder a little bit. I didn't choose to fight in a battle - I don't want to be a 'soldier'. I know it's just an analogy but I don't like to think of myself as a part of it. I've always found this hard to explain but there is just something about it that puts me off. Perhaps it makes me feel patronised, maybe I just hate to think of cancer as something that scary - who knows.

One of the braver things I have done - the first picture of my scar.

It comes back to me being 'courageous'. Ever since I was little I've been a drama-queen - screaming for hours over splinters, screeching at the dentists, crying over wasps and spiders,. Don't even get me started on needles. Thus in many senses I am definitely not brave. However, when people call me brave, I think if I'm not mistaken, that they're predominantly referring instead to my attitude and my positivity towards cancer, treatment and so on. But I see an act of bravery as an act of fearlessness, when you go ahead with something despite it being risky or scary, because you know you can, and because you've chosen to do so. Jumping off a plane, holding a tarantula, making life changing decisions - these take courage. But I didn't choose to get cancer. I haven't chosen to fight it. I don't have a choice - because what choice is life or death, really? My attitude and approach to dealing with this has been in no way thought-out, my reactions are all fairly instinctive, and I can't help but think that when people call me brave they have been misconstrued to believe that I have decided to face this head-on and be brave about it - because what's the point of being scared? I have been scared, very scared, and it's not that I haven't chosen to show it, or I've made any brave decisions, I'm just doing what I have to do to get better, and also to basically stay sane. I mean if I let myself be scared everyday I'd be pretty miserable. But sometimes it's unavoidable.

I find this article from the Guardian particularly interesting, as Kate Granger describes the negative impact of the 'wartime' jargon used to describe cancer sufferers. She makes the point that one should not be remembered after death as someone who 'lost' - who wants to be remembered as a loser? And one who survives cancer? Who wins the battle? The long-term effects of cancer and treatments surely do not render you as a winner. If you 'beat' it, it's an experience you'll never forget, that you'll carry with you for the rest of your life, and one that constantly threatens to recur. You may have fought it off but it seems in some way demeaning to say you've won.

That's all down to personal opinion, of course!

I guess what I'm trying to say is, sure, I may seem brave to you, but I don't feel it because it's not been my choice. It interests me a lot, because suddenly when I was diagnosed I started being described as 'brave' - an adjective never before attributed to me (apart from when my parents were trying to encourage me whilst getting an injection, or letting the dentist look into my mouth or something ridiculous). I don't think I have suddenly become brave, I've just been landed in a bit of a crappy situation that I'm dealing with in whatever way I can, that happens to be in this moment just enjoying life as it comes.

I'm not sure if any of that made any sense, but to any cancer patients out there I'm not saying you're not brave. Heck, I'm not even really saying I'M not brave. We all are in many ways, I just think it's interesting. Thanks to Corrie for the inspo, now my brain is confused (and I hope your brains are a bit confused too!) Feel free to leave your ideas on this topic in the comments. I'm open to criticism/questions/friendly debate! And also please do subscribe if you like my posts!

Hope you enjoyed this slightly confusing read.

M x


If you're interested in the Movember movement, check out the Macmillan website (here), that provides extremely useful information on symptoms of common cancers in men, and how to stay as healthy as possible. As always I will emphasise the importance of knowing your body inside-out, so you can easily recognise any small changes in order to speed up any possible diagnosis process (which is absolutely key to survival and recovery!).


Please sponsor my month of vegetarianism/no-chocolatism HERE as I try to raise as much money as possible for cancer research UK. Donations big and small are very much appreciated.

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