Words Matter: Why Cancer Isn’t a Game of Winners or Losers

Updated: Apr 26

By Liz Brown


Where’s the Scoreboard?


Is there anything better than a 10 year old parks and recreation baseball game? As I hobbled to my favorite lucky spot behind home plate equipped with a cooler full of water, Gatorades, and snacks for my favorite players, the excitement was in the air! Two teams on a field of dreams, as they say, playing their best baseball - a fight to the end. Unfortunately, maybe more so for the hard core parents than the kids, there will be a loser in this fight. But there will also be a winner!. One of the teams' players will jump for joy at the end of the game celebrating all the way home and the other will go home wondering what they did wrong.


Oh wait, a close second to a battle on the baseball field are the sounds of Friday night lights on a small town high school football field. High school football players work tirelessly through the summer to prepare for their battles on the field. The cheerleaders show their support as the stands erupt after a long touchdown pass or a pop of a tackle heard from the top of the stands. The ups and downs of the game keep the fans watching every play intently. The band plays and the fight continues. Four quarters goes by in a flash (well, for us die hards) and again, there will be a winner and a loser of this full on fight to the finish. The loser will go to the locker room with a probable lashing from coaches as to what should have happened on the field to prevent the fumble or how missing that one tackle gave up the winning touchdown while cheers echo from the locker room as the winning team celebrates.


I come from a long line of sports fanatics. My grandmother (who we affectionately called Meremere) would have one game on the tv in her family room,one on her small black and white tv in the kitchen, and one playing on the radio in the kitchen. My dad has never missed a golf tournament or a college football game. I have watched my three boys play countless games from elementary age to high school and my youngest, well, his ipad constantly beeps with updates from every MLB game while Sportscenter is a morning staple. We are used to winners and losers. We understand fighting to win a game. We understand, in losses, that game film is a must in evaluating what was done right in the game and how to evaluate what was done wrong.


Cancer is not a game. There are no winners or losers. When I hear that I am fighting cancer, I can’t help but think to look for a scoreboard to see how much time is remaining in the game and thankfully, there is no scoreboard. I immediately shift my thinking to how can there be a winner and a loser in a disease? Often, we hear “she lost her battle with breast cancer”. Lost? What? I hear lost and immediately think, well, who won? What could have been done differently? What did we do wrong?


Let’s look at this from a mathematical standpoint. The old adage of “keep fighting, you’ve got this” leads us to the conditional statement that “if we fight hard enough, then we will win this battle against cancer”. From geometry class, you recall (were you listening that day?), that the contrapositive of a conditional statement is always true if and only if the conditional statement is true...sorry had to get my math lesson in for the day-shout out to my math department in Manteo! In following that logic, the following statement would be true, “if we do NOT win the battle against cancer, then we did not fight hard enough”. Hmmmm, is that really what we believe….absolutely not. No matter what the age and no matter what the stage of any cancer patient, you can be assured they are doing everything they possibly can to do for what is best for their body, their family, and themselves.


And furthermore, while I’m on a roll, why is cancer the only disease we “beat” or “fight” or “lose to”? I have asthma and no one says I am fighting it; no one says those words in conjunction to diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, etc. nor should they. There is an implication of weakness or something that could have been done better when we use the word “lost”. We should never use such negative associations with someone who has died of cancer. In fact I read once where it was written in an obituary that she “won her battle with cancer as she joined the Lord in heaven.” So much better and much more accurate!


In the beginning, I mentioned that I hobbled to my seat for the baseball game. A few weeks later, I found out that I had a compression fracture in my back at T9 - I guess that explains the hobble. The doctors could not figure out how I had fractured my vertebrae. I was otherwise a healthy and active 46 year old just running around juggling teaching and crazily chasing three boys with my husband. They could not figure it out until my regularly scheduled mammogram came back looking suspicious. And, as they say, the “you know what” hit the fan. In less than a week, I had a bone scan, a biopsy on my breast, kyphoplasty, a biopsy on my T9 vertebra, and multiple other scans. I went from teaching high school math one day to hearing the news of being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer to my bones the next. Meta-who? My mom and I practiced saying the word and spelling the word. I didn’t even know how to pronounce metastatic much less understand what in the world it all meant. I was definitely in shock and to be quite honest, none of it registered until I asked my primary doctor, “Would I be teaching this year?” She quietly replied, “no” and then I understood that this was something big and unwanted. I started my 4 week regiment of the “red devil” chemo and 12 weeks of Taxol chemo within a week of diagnosis. I followed up with a lumpectomy and 20 rounds of radiation on my breast where the tumor had emerged. I started on Kisqali among all sorts of other medications but my liver was too sensitive to the Kisqali and I have had to since change to Verzenio.


I am a year and a half into my story (not a journey to me because a journey is supposed to be fun). Metastatic disease is a roller coaster with oncology appointments every month, at the minimum, and scans every three months to make sure the cancer has not spread further. Every medication has its own side effects which is really fun in itself. I don’t want to ever look back and think about how I could have or should have done things differently. I will never lose because it is not a fight, it is simply a new lifestyle…..okay fine, some days I have to be stronger (look out Darana, my other soap box word) than others but I know that no matter what I win! I always win! I have a long road ahead and my new “job” is to take care of myself and my family, steer clear of stress, and go to as many ball games as I can so I can enjoy looking at a real scoreboard and smile no matter if we are on the winning side or the losing side. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pack my cooler!


Liz Brown

Manteo, NC



I’m hoping to share my story and resources to help you or someone you love calm the waves in your crazy cancer storm.


*****Blog/website: www.mbcoutlier.com


*****Instagram: mbcoutlier


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