After Bill Turnbull’s cancer death, it’s time to stop calling it a battle

Cancer took the life of Bill Turnbull this week – but he didn’t “lose his battle” with prostate cancer.

And it’s downright insulting that this is how a diagnosis with the disease is often referred to.

I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of it – both when it comes to my writing and in general conversation with friends and family.

But when someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, you get to see first-hand that this isn’t a fight that they have any say over.

Cancer and its treatments ravage mind, body and soul and it’s high time the narrative around diagnosis, death and treatment changed.

Bill Turnbull smiling at an event
Bill Turnbull died yesterday – but he didn’t lose any cancer ‘battle’ (Credit: Splash News)

Bill Turnbull dies from cancer

The BBC Breakfast veteran faced his diagnosis with “dignity”, his family said in a statement released earlier today (September 1).

He underwent treatment and was very public about the effect his cancer had on his life and that of his family.

Bill didn’t choose to go into battle with cancer and he had no control over the eventual outcome of his so-called “fight”.

He trusted in his doctors and the treatment and let the drugs do the work.

After the death of Dame Deborah James, her friend Steve Bland made the very same point.

Of course, his wife Rachael died of cancer in 2018.

Posting to Instagram he declared that “language matters”.

He then explained that he wanted to clear something up for those who “haven’t got the memo”.

And he also went on the declare that Deborah didn’t “lose her fight/battle with cancer”.

Deborah did fight, he explained. But it was to get access to new drugs, to help others with the disease and to inspire people to get themselves checked.

And, he said, that was a fight she won “hands down”.

Deborah James wearing blue leopard print
One of Deborah’s friends spoke out about cancer terminology after her death (Credit: Splash News)

Time to change the lazy language when it comes to cancer

He’s right in saying the language is “lazy”.

Come on journo pals, be a little more inventive.

What is it you want them to do, square up against their cells and threaten them with fisticuffs till they go away?

Someone died as a result of their cancer.

Their death was a result of their cancer diagnosis.

No one ever loses a fight or battle with cancer. And the terminology needs to change.

It’s bloody offensive.

How do you propose someone ‘fights’ cancer?

Be honest, how many times have you told a friend of family member that they need to fight cancer?

What is it you want them to do, square up against their cells and threaten them with fisticuffs till they go away?

It’s the job of modern medicine to fight – not the patient.

They have enough on their hands with hair loss and other chemo side effects you never hear about including thrush, neuropathy, dental problems and anaemia.

When my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer last year she got text messages, phone calls and even cards telling her to “fight”.

She was ill in bed for months while the drugs fought cancer. She didn’t have the energy to get washed and dressed, let alone square up to a life-threatening illness.

Julia Bradbury smiling on the red carpet
Julia Bradbury was diagnosed with breast cancer last year (Credit: Splash News)

Negative connotations

If you’ve ever seen a loved one go through cancer you’ll be with me when I say that a little more understanding is needed when it comes to talking about cancer.

It’s a horrendously difficult time for the person with the disease and their loved ones.

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

And I know people mean well and think they’re being supportive and positive.

But what you need to realise is it isn’t a fight, it’s a diagnosis. And to say as much is actually pretty offensive.

It isn’t time to go into battle. It’s a time to surround yourself with loved ones, rest, enjoy the good days and put your faith in your doctors and modern medicine.

My mum’s lovely oncologist told her that the terminology angered her too.

She reiterated that it wasn’t a fight that she needed to lead. The drugs would do that.

It wasn’t her job to be brave. The doctors would support her with that.

And, if you’re lucky like my mum, you’ll come out the other side.

For people like Bill and Deborah and the thousands of others who die of cancer, it’s high time they got the respect they deserve and the terminology was changed.

No one ever loses a battle or a fight with cancer. And it’s high time we were all mindful of that.

Read more: Sarah Benny’s children cut off her hair as she reveals cancer diagnosis

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