Tell me you do this, too — as you flip past the newspaper section containing obituaries, you can’t help but stop and read the ones accompanied by a photo of a young-looking person.

Here’s why I do it. Having lost a few friends to cancer, I feel compelled to find out if that’s what ended the lives of these young people. And so many times the obituary does read that the person died of cancer. Inevitably, it’s after “a long battle” or a “courageous battle” with cancer, or sometimes it’s a “short but courageous battle.” Always a battle; nobody goes gracefully, although sometimes they are said to be “at peace” or “surrounded by loved ones.”

I don’t know why this concept of a battle bugs me, but I’m not alone. An empassioned column about cancer in the New York Times shares that dislike. In “Let’s face it: Words are inadequate,” Dana Jennings writes:

“We like to say that people ‘fight’ cancer because we wrestle fearfully with the notion of ever having the disease. But after staggering through prostate cancer and its treatment — surgery, radiation and hormone therapy — the words ‘fight’ and ‘battle’ make me cringe and bristle…It pays to have a positive outlook, I think, but that in no way translates to ‘fighting’ cancer. Cancer simply is.”

Last fall, after losing another friend to cancer, I wrote a post about how we can support friends who are going through the awful treatment for this disease. Dana says this:

“When I was sickest, most numbed by my treatment, it was more than healing to bask in a friend’s compassionate silence, to receive and give a hug, to be sustained by a genuine smile.”

In the comments to Dana’s post, three of the “top 20 statements people with cancer want the rest of us to know” are these:

  • “Telling me to think positively can make me feel worse.”
  • “Hearing platitudes or what’s good about cancer can trivialize my feelings.”
  • “I need you to listen to me and let me cry.”

His is a touching and heartfelt article; do read it. And let’s not talk about battles any more.

Thanks to Patti Digh and her inspiring 37 Days blog (“What would you be doing today if you only had 37 days to live?”) for pointing me to Dana’s column.