In the wake of Jack Layton’s death, the feeling of loss against an impossible battle is on many people’s minds. There was an interesting article in the Globe and Mail today that talks about how equating an illness with a war against an enemy in order to survive can trivialize the sickness and devalue the one who is sick. With numerous headlines in the news of how the leader of the Official Opposition of Canada ‘lost’ his battle with cancer, the question came up: Did Mr. Layton or anyone who dies from cancer, really lose a fight?
Isn’t it all just semantics? People constantly describe life as an uphill battle and, from my own personal experience, while it is not always a walk in the park life can have it’s silver linings. Sometimes it is these metaphors of tackling life head on and striving for optimism that help us make tangible the hardest times we face. Life is not necessarily a war, although the idea of defeating our enemies and wanting to come out on top seems to be in most people’s inherent nature.
So does anyone who has cancer die because they didn’t fight hard enough?
It is hopeless to think of the one suffering as the one losing, but cancer is a battle that more people can take arms against. From nutrition to personal care products, more responsible choices need to be made by both consumers and manufacturers so that we can move in a less chemically inclined direction. There are definite lifestyle factors that you can and should change if cancer is something you want to ‘fight’ against; but at the end of the day, when someone has cancer it is, as mentioned in the article, “an interference in your life, and you have the choice of making it good or bad.” It all falls onto how one perceives it, but if you give something your all and if you really fight for something, you don’t lose. No matter the outcome, the fact that you were optimistic in the face of adversity means that you successfully made a full attempt at life.
Having someone you love die is painful. It is more painful still to think about that person losing a battle that they never had a fair chance of winning. I lost my grandfather to prostrate cancer and when I think back to the time I spent with him before his death, I never see him as someone who lost a fight but instead as someone who, like out of Dylan Thomas’ poem, fought and raged ‘against the dying of the light.’ His cancer was terminal and in no way was it a glorified final battle. There is nothing visually optimistic about the sight of a loved one dying. For my grandfather there were no false notions of miracle cures or unexpected victories. All we had to hope for was that he would be comfortable and surrounded by love.
It is the idea of fighting to the death that still stirs passion and hope in many. Mr. Layton left us with this quote; “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.” We can all picture him spiritedly authoring his last letter to Canadians, and that is what gives us hope. Because he soldiered on with his beliefs and passions for life until his last breath, we should feel like we can too.
As a small token to anyone touched by cancer or life’s hardship, I created the typographic image above as a simple reminder. Don’t kid yourself. Life can be a hard and arduous battle. It will always come down to how you fight for what you want out of it in the end.
Cover image credit: Painting “Fort Vimieux” by JMW Turner