The militaristic connection of ‘fighting’ and ‘battling’ cancer was cemented in 1971 when Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer. Almost half a century later this so-called war is global, with tens of millions of casualties.
All wars are ultimately bad. They are best prevented. Equating the body as a battlefield within which to wage war is nonsensical. Rogue cancer cells as the enemy, and healthy ones as the good soldiers?
And the outcome: winners going into remission and losers relapsing and/or dying? Declaring war on cancer does not meaningfully promote prevention. And it’s not a healthy use of language for those dealing with the deep psychological effects of the cancer journey.
I am guilty of this myself. In my book, n of 1, in a scene where I am walking in a park with full-blown leukemia, I describe visualizing the ‘decimation’ of leukemic cells traversing my veins.
What I do know is that cancer will not abide by treaties or ceasefires. Cancer is not to be negotiated with, as there are no sustainable diplomatic solutions.
Significant reduction of the cancer burden requires strategic and tactical manipulation focused on evolving government priorities in policy, and reimagining research primacies. For that to happen, the public needs to demand answers to important questions like: why, when cancer deaths are trending downward, are new diagnoses accelerating?
From the symbolic fields of the warzone, there then comes the challenging nation human rebuilding process—physical and psychological rehabilitation—with frequent longstanding and permanent damage.
With so many ‘prospective victims’, it will require a cancer prevention moonshot—not an endless war with outmoded battle plans—to achieve global peace.
Without a doubt this has been a forty-six-year war of attrition; a war resulting in incredible collateral damage—a war on cancer cells at seemingly any cost, often at the expense of healthy cells and their human hosts, with a buckshot chemotherapeutic approach, which savagely cuts or burns innocent territory to ensure no invaders remain.
I hereby declare a halt to the ‘cancer as war’ allegory. This ‘all-out assault’ and mindset has failed us. (Click to Tweet)
All these parables and thoughts of winning and losing and battling, beating and conquering, are categorically unhelpful. It’s not what a cancer patient or survivor should be contemplating—especially in the face of a life-limiting diagnosis.
It’s time to retreat—or at least take a few steps back—to rethink and refortify positions, then leverage collective and robust intellectual capacities for strategic advantage.
Our ‘anticancer’ conventional treatment forces, as standalone interventions, were never going to prevail. Our enemy has always had better intelligence and has stayed several steps ahead of us; we’ve been largely out-hacked by cancer.
Should cancer even be referred to as the enemy?
We require a disciplined, defensive strategy and tactical plan to dial back the cancer threat. A robust front line (or first line) offense is not enough in its current form. Adjusting our language to eliminate unhelpful metaphors (like those sprinkled liberally throughout this post) is the beginning. A new lexicon relating to cancer prevention, treatment and healing is essential, as is a new offensive simile.
It is also vital to find a way to identify solutions—beyond sanctions—to address wide-scale industrial practices which downgrade food-quality, create food deserts, pollute the air, and contaminate water.
It’s Time for Judo
I am absolutely not advocating for a pacifistic approach in addressing the global cancer problem. Cancer remains our collective nemesis. We need to remain hands on, vigilant, and more strategic than ever.
Do we need a Judo approach?
In short, resisting a more powerful opponent will result in your defeat, whilst adjusting to and evading your opponent’s attack will cause him to lose his balance, his power will be reduced, and you will defeat him. This can apply whatever the relative values of power, thus making it possible for weaker opponents to beat significantly stronger ones. This is the theory of ju yoku go o seisu.
The coming of precision medicine and targeted therapies that focus on blocking and editing (gene therapy)—and boosting the immune system—promise a Judo-style ‘adjustment’ approach.
Lifestyle changes, and focusing on the host environment, are powerful Judo-like responses.
Engaging the mind to positively influence cancer outcomes is a potent Judo move. The theory used in Judo—a balanced existence and prepared defense to counter strong offense—is the ultimate approach to true cancer prevention.
Half a century is too long to wage war and employ juvenile wordplay of how we might conquer, battle, attack, crush, vanquish, or otherwise decimate cancer.
When we become inhospitable hosts to cancer—by all means of lifestyle practices and suitable, targeted agents and interventions—making it difficult for cancer to establish or advance, we are essentially employing the theory of ju yoku go o seisu… ensuring cancer’s insidious trajectory will be reversed.