The Language We Use To Describe ABC
Language is powerful. The way we talk about certain issues and the words we use can carry so much weight and meaning, and can make us feel strongly. Discussing a person’s cancer, like advanced breast cancer (ABC), can be a sensitive topic where language choice is key. Some may be more open with their situation and the words used to describe it, while others might prefer not to have conversations about their condition and are greatly affected by others’ word choices.
We surveyed more than 500 people living with ABC in our 2nd Annual Advanced Breast Cancer In America Survey to find out what terms they prefer when it comes to the way others talk about their cancer. This also included ways they prefer to be addressed as someone living with ABC.
All of the responses were so thoughtful and unique, and show that everyone is different when it comes to the way they want to talk about their cancer. However, there were some common themes shared by survey respondents that are highlighted below.
Advanced breast cancer fighters
“Thriver, because this is what I do now. I try to live my best day every day.”
Many respondents shared that they preferred being called a fighter, warrior, or another similar term that describes their strength and tenacity.
Positive affirmations for advanced breast cancer
“She never gives up. She stays positive. She is blessed.”
“I like it when people compliment me on how well I look and that I have a happy outlook on things.”
“Brave, positive, inspiring.”
“You are an inspiration to me. I truly admire you. Thank you for sharing your positive energy with me.”
“You look great. I am praying for you.”
“Resilient, strong, powerful.”
“You are impacting many people. You are handling this with grace. Your dedication to your children is inspiring.”
“Graceful, courageous, impactful, valuable, inspiration. Shining in spite of darkness.”
“You are thriving! I love your warm, positive attitude. I can see you are doing great. Thank you for sharing.”
Some just wanted to be talked about positively or receive words of affirmation and respect. A little bit of positivity and praise can go a long way.
Receiving offers for support
“How are you feeling today? Can I do anything, even if it is small to help you?”
“I know how strong you are, but I want to help or just spend time with you.”
“How can I help? How are you feeling? How is your treatment going?”
“How can I help you fight?”
“‘I am sorry. That is awful. Can I help you?’ (And mean it, not just lip service) Ask me what is going on and mean it.”
“I support you.”
“I can only imagine how you feel. If there is anything you need, please let me know. I am here for you.”
Although not for everyone, a large number of respondents said they were open to or preferred when others offered to help them when having discussions about their ABC. A small show of support makes all the difference for some.
Living with advanced breast cancer
“If I only knew… It is easy to point out the dislikes, but I find it hard to tell you what I would prefer to hear. Maybe just that I am LIVING with ABC.”
“I am living with cancer, not dying from it.”
“Living with cancer.”
“Person-first language, for example, ‘Living with breast cancer.’”
“I am living with breast cancer because that is what I am doing, every day!”
“That I am a person with breast cancer.”
Some participants shared that simply switching the way we discuss a person with ABC by a single word can make a huge difference. The phrase “living with breast cancer” and other person-first language was important for many.
Sticking to the facts
“Treatable, but not curable. Having a good quality of life and doing the best we can every day.”
“Keep it basic – stage IV breast cancer.”
“Metastatic breast cancer. Incurable but treatable breast cancer. Chronic but not terminal.”
“Metastatic. Say the name. Metastatic breast cancer. Because no one has heard of it, people are not aware of what research is really needed.”
“Cancer patient. Be honest.”
A large number of respondents did not want to use specific phrases or words for their cancer other than the medical facts. Not everyone wants to stick to the medical terms only; however, for some, it understandably makes a big difference when having conversations about ABC.
Not saying anything at all or no preference
“Just not say anything.”
“I do not think you need special phrases to describe an ill person. We are still just people, and a disease should not define us.”
“We are normal. Treat us like people who have high blood pressure or liver issues.”
“I have no preference. I just want the world to better understand ABC and advocate for a cure.”
“Not sure I have a preference. I have yet to hear a term that I am in love with.”
“I do not care what terms they use. If they understand what metastatic really means, they probably will not use upsetting or insulting words.”
Everyone has their own preference, and, for some, their choice would be to not address it at all. Some said normalizing ABC and having conversations that are not about the condition are what makes them the most comfortable.
As shown from these great responses, everyone is different when it comes to how they want to talk about their ABC (if at all), and how they want to be perceived by those around them.
What kinds of terms do you like when talking about ABC? Are they on this list?
The 2nd Annual In America Survey was conducted online from September 2019 to February 2020. 546 people with advanced breast cancer completed the survey.
Internal radiation therapy is the most common type of radiation used to treat breast cancer.