Who or what exactly did Mr. Layton do battle with…himself or prostate cancer?

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did. - Mark Twain

My thoughts on “battling cancer”…a year and a half ago

First of all I understand that we don’t know for sure if Mr. Layton died of prostate cancer or another cancer. I do wonder why we don’t know or why we haven’t been told. Odd.

I thought this discussion and the perspective of “one does not battle cancer” sounded familiar. I search my previous posts and lo and behold not only a discussion about the topic but it was based on Mr. Layton stating he “beat it.”  Now that is what’s called a “cowinkydink.”

  • I agree that you don’t battle cancer.
  • You battle yourself, your mentality, your perspective and how you repsond to the “affect” the cancer has on your spirit and your family.
  • I disagree that it is disrespectful to say that Mr. Layton battled cancer. What in the world does that mean.
  • Way to many references to fate. What is that “journalism speak” for…that there is no God?
  • Does emphasis on fate tell us something of the author of the piece?
  • I agree that if one has a “bad” cancer…i.e. in prostate cancer one with a 9-10 Gleason score…you can battle all you want-that type of cancer usually wins in the end.
  • Beauty in the young is a work of nature…beauty in the old is a work of art.
  • Handling oneself gracefully and with vigor in the face of cancer is indeed….a work of art and that my friend is the battle-that which is in one’s self that is felt when you are alone and your mortality is in the balance…now that is a battle
  • It’s not a battle with the cancer per se…it is a battle with the aftermath of the cancer.


Jack Layton makes a fist as he arrives at a rally this past spring. The NDP Leader died of cancer Monday. - Jack Layton makes a fist as he arrives at a rally this past spring. The NDP Leader died of cancer Monday. | THE CANADIAN PRESS

Jack Layton didn’t lose a fight: He died of cancer.


From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Aug. 22, 2011 4:56PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011 8:20AM EDT

Did Jack Layton die from cancer because he didn’t fight the disease hard enough?

Of course not.

Why, then, did so many headlines and social media messages spreading news of his passing Monday morning at age 61 announce that he had lost a battle with cancer?

Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in his statement about the opposition leader’s death, noted that Mr. Layton “gave his fight against cancer everything he had,” and that he “never backed down from any fight.”


It’s a common cliché, one many of us use when talking about a disease that is often feared and rarely understood.

But to those touched directly by cancer, equating the illness with a war against the enemy, fighting an adversary, or suffering in order to survive can diminish understanding of the challenges and complexities faced by patients and their families.

“The idea that he was waging a battle which he lost demeans him,” said Robert Buckman, a medical oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. “I absolutely feel that he did not lose to an adversary.”

Many oncologists and cancer patients have been pushing in recent years for a change in the well-meant, but often misguided words and phrases that have become ingrained in the cancer lexicon.

The outpouring of emotion over Mr. Layton’s death provides an opportunity to ask whether it’s time to move beyond the militaristic metaphors and clichés.

A significant problem is that most of the common words and phrases we use to describe the experiences of people who have been diagnosed with cancer imply that personal will and self-control play a large part in determining who will live or die.

To say Mr. Layton lost his fight implies he had a say over his fate.

“He didn’t choose any of that any more than I could have chosen the colour of my eyes: It’s that arbitrary,” Dr. Buckman said. “It’s a much more mature and helpful comment to say this man, faced with a rotten hand of cards, as it were, really gave meaning to his life and to what he did in his life.”

London-based writer Mike Marqusee, who has discussed his experiences with multiple myeloma in several pieces in The Guardian, says cancer has little to do with battle. “The [emphasis] on cancer patients’ ‘bravery’ and ‘courage’ implies that if you can’t ‘conquer’ your cancer, there’s something wrong with you, some weakness or flaw,” Mr. Marqusee wrote in 2009. “If your cancer progresses rapidly, is it your fault? Does it reflect some failure of willpower?”

Similarly, saying someone who is now cancer-free is a “survivor” conveys that he or she is somehow better than the people who didn’t make it, said Peter Ellis, staff medical oncologist at the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton, Ont.

“It does set up a battle with a winner and a loser, and I think that some people certainly think that there would be better ways of talking about this,” said Dr. Ellis, who is also an associate professor in the department of oncology at McMaster University.

Instead of fixating on the idea of a cancer battle, Dr. Ellis and a growing number of experts in the field say, it is more important to focus on learning to live with cancer.

For those undergoing treatment, this can be much more empowering than the idea they can somehow control the ultimate outcome if they fight hard enough.

It is the attitude that gets Barb Rowe-Bennett through each day. The 64-year-old Toronto resident, who has had cancer off and on for nearly 20 years, is in the last stages of palliative care after her breast cancer metastasized, or spread, to her bones and lungs.

The medication she is taking keeps her comfortable and enables her to leave the house, spend time with family and enjoy each day as it comes.

Ms. Rowe-Bennett doesn’t see herself as a “survivor” even though she has managed to outlast the cancer thus far; nor does she feel she has been cursed by bad luck because the disease is still with her.

“I just feel that cancer is an interference in your life, and you have a choice of making it good or bad,” she said. “You can bring yourself down, and it can be the worst of the worst, or you can say ‘I can carry on, I will deal with [it] on a daily basis.’ ”



2 Replies to “Who or what exactly did Mr. Layton do battle with…himself or prostate cancer?”

  1. It would be helpful to hear the alternative suggestions for men who have undergone treatment and been through and had to deal with the after effects. Please replace the word “survivor” with???
    To me living with cancer sounds awful whereas, incorrect as it may seem, battling cancer at least conotates a positive approach.
    I think this discussion is on the road to be’ never ending’ and we, as adults, have the right to call it as we see it, politically wrong or right!


  2. It seems that when these statements of ‘battle’ or ‘survivor’ or whatever it is that is said ABOUT these people with cancer (of which I am one) is just that… What someone says about them. The person themselves: likely doesn’t think of it as a battle. Likely just does what it takes to keep going every day, without much energy spent philosophizing or wordcrafting or smithing. People who talk about it are mainly observers (or sometimes people with) and, it seems, maybe don’t know what else to say. So saying someone is like a warrior is not such a bad thing. A valiant battle is maybe what it seems like to an observer. Not entirely incorrect. Not sure why i even am writing this haha.


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