Why Cancer Language Really Matters!

There is still so much to learn about how we communicate regarding cancer. A big part of my work is raising awareness of how common cancer actually is in our lives. How we must learn to adapt the way we work, to produce better results in terms of living with it. Society must also change! With 50% of us being directly affected in our lifetime, we must do that quickly! 30 million in the UK alone, which I believe is a scandal, of epic proportions.

This is a subject that has been spoken about so many times. Most of us not enjoying any fighting or battle references to our cancer. Yet it continues, particularly in the media and we’ve all heard it. Person X has lost their ‘battle’ against cancer. Does it really make more of a headline than Person X died of cancer? I imagine that because we see it so often, most believe this is the language that should be used. We can’t blame others, because if they are not in our position how would they really understand?

Yesterday I was contacted on Twitter by someone who had seen a video that really moved her. Despite being in the ‘cancer world,’ she wasn’t sure if it was ‘too strong’ to share in her community. My opinion was requested, and I shared it immediately. It is one of the most important videos I have seen on this subject. However, it was on BBC I player which excludes viewers outside of the UK. Since then, things have moved quickly. I have been in touch with the film maker who is Mary’s son. We now have a link that everyone can see. I didn’t just want to share the film but put into context. Below are some quotes from Oisín about making this incredible film during the final days of his mother’s life.

Mary and Brian

When Oisín Power got a call saying his mum had only a matter of days left to live, he knew he had to do two things – get home as fast as he could and buy a new video camera. A budding filmmaker, Oisín had been collecting footage of his mother Mary ever since she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer in early 2016. Mary was a popular community pharmacist who came from Ireland and settled with her husband Brian and children in West Kirby. Initially her cancer was seen as treatable, but over the next three years it would move to untreatable and eventually to terminal. Now 26, Oisín explained: “The film focusses mainly on the last few days of Mary’s life and the language surrounding cancer. How metaphors such as battle, and fight can have unintended consequences on those living with cancer.

Then there was the flip side of almost toxic positivity of people saying, ‘you’re so brave’ and ‘I couldn’t get through that’, which was all very well-meaning, but mum didn’t feel like a particularly strong or heroic figure. She felt she had been dealt this card and had to get on with it.” He added: “I have seen people describe her as a ‘warrior’ and that she ‘battled for so long.’ I don’t want to dictate what people can and can’t say, especially when they are being supportive, but I’m interested to see how people feel about using this language after watching the film. Oisín said Mary’s belief was that cancer was a unique journey, one that is specific to each individual. He added: “We wanted to capture her own experience and show how after being diagnosed with an incurable disease, rather than ‘fighting’, she made sure to enjoy the rest of her life while she could.”

If you would like to read the complete interview, please click here. You can connect with Oisin here. It would mean a lot to the family if you could kindly leave some feedback here. We would like to also credit Jacob Gourley and Ben Larsen who did the incredible artwork in the film.

I feel very privileged to share this piece. With a massive Thank you to Oisín and family. Just click the link to start. BBC Arts – New Creatives, Mary Lost Her Battle


  1. I cried before I started & cried during. This is truly us, those who have cancer. Thank you for sharing this, it’s a perspective changer. I often feel the press to keep pushing. I like Mary’s outlook, enjoy what is now. My love to Mary’s family, her memory is a blessing for all.

    • Thank you for your very powerful comments. It was a game changer for me as soon as I saw it! The discussion about cancer language has been going on so long. This incredible film summed everything up. Particularly for anyone without personal experience.

  2. These are tributes that are necessary. Yes, painful too, but such an honor to witness Mary’s beauty & love of life. There is such a grace in being an observer, I feel that I’ve been gifted just watching. An interesting way to start the day.

    • I agree totally! I felt totally privileged to gain an insight into Mary’s life. Yes, it was painful but that is the reality for so many of us. Not pink and fluffy. Thank YOU!

      • I’ve said recently, seriously & a bit jokingly but not, there are no escapees from hospice, but the cancer/disease end of life is a topic to be discussed. Yes the technicalish issues are one thing, the stark reality of it I’d like to soften more for my sons, but also for myself.

        • End of life is a fact as much as birth. Whether it is #Cancer or any other. A very important issue to discuss for all of us.

  3. Huge thanks @christheeagle1 for writing this blog post. It’s really important to hear the perspectives of people who have/had cancer, so I appreciate you sharing Mary’s story with your community.

    • Massive thanks to you and your family Oisin, for going public with this issue. Something that was obviously so important to Mary, and many others. Sharing such intimate moments with the world must have been a very difficult decision.

  4. A beautiful and powerful film of Mary’s story It resonates strongly in my personal and professional life. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Karen. It is one of the most impactful #Cancer films that I have ever seen. Everyone will learn something from it. So pleased that @oisinliampower allowed me to share it in this way.

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