Below is a list of words we have discussed on our blog as far as what they mean in relation to cancer. You can tap your finger on any of the sections for more information on that word. Or you can visit the blog and read more.


From many different perspectives on cancer – as patient, family member, physician, care-giver or researcher – the language we often use evokes the image of cancer as a war. As we try to be resilient, determined and aggressive in the struggle with cancer, it is accurate to make this connection? More importantly, is it helpful to think in this way, or does it miss something important about understanding and coming to terms with this condition? Are there more useful or constructive analogies we can use to think about and talk about it?

All of us who are involved directly or indirectly with cancer care about the disease, but do we all mean the same thing when we say so? Does caring need us to have a deep emotional connection, or to keep some distance from caring so much that we might not be able to effectively treat the disease and cope with its effects? Care can mean both treatment and support – where do these two meaning meet?

Community is a word we hear all around us, used in may different ways – from the communities we live in, and the communities of people we call our friends and family, to online communities, like this one. For those of us in this community of cancer care, what does it mean to join together in a community? Does it mean we have a common understanding of something people ‘outside’ the community can’t fully understand? Is it too much to think of anyone in a community with us as having the same point of view, or is community more about bringing together different perspectives, so we can agree to a shared goal?

What makes an amazing day? At Mass General Cancer Center it’s a question we ask ourselves—and our patients—every day. Sometimes amazing is innovative technology like the proton beam or targeted therapies … but sometimes it’s as simple as a warm cup of coffee or a beautiful sunset. How about you? What makes your day amazing?

“Family” is a word we all use a lot, but it takes on a crucial meaning in relation to cancer care. Do those of us who are affected by cancer think about what family means differently? If so, is it more about a new way to see the family we already know and care about (and who care about us)? Or perhaps the word takes on a new, wider scope, which might link it to some of the people who care for us in a clinical setting, or the organizations of many kinds, that support us.

There are few emotions that can affect us more powerfully than fear. It is a force that can take hold of us and deeply affect our ability to make decisions and cope in the face of adversity. It can be, at worst, completely incapacitating. But is fear something that should always be suppressed or denied, or can we turn fear to our advantage? Can fear ever be useful, as a motivator to make a change, or to fight, or even as a test of our emotional strength?

For patients and for family members, facing a cancer diagnosis or course of treatment is an incredibly stressful experience. Some people confronted with cancer suggest that it can give them a new sense of awareness of the things they appreciate in their lives though, and some even suggest that each of these things can feel like “gift”. Thinking more about this word, is it possible to appreciate the major or the everyday things in life as Gifts, even when dealing with cancer? Does the seriousness of a cancer experience dwarf the idea of seeing things in this way, for patients, family members, or caregivers?

Is it possible that using the word “Hope” in relation to a cancer experience might send a mixed message? Like our recent conversation about the word Support, hoping for the best for a patient is of course intended as a positive way to show our care and best wishes to anyone going through difficult circumstances. But is there also a suggestion that our hope shows us to be quite passive – that hoping means we cannot actively affect outcomes? While there is always a limit to what we can do, is hope something that merely emphasizes these limits to those we wish it on? Or is our hope, and the hope of a patient, actually essential to a positive outcome?

There has been a lot of talk about the health choices of come celebrities recently, most notably about the decision by actress Angelina Jolie to have a preventative double mastectomy following a genetic test that indicated she was a high risk of developing breast cancer. Jolie was not (yet) suffering from the disease that she was treated for – she was, essentially, still healthy. This makes us wonder if the way we understand the word “healthy” is changing over time. Is being healthy about planning for the future, or about feeling your best in the now? Does being healthy in everyday life feel like it is connected to staying healthy in terms of cancer, or does the medical evidence we know about, telling us that good health practices now will increase our long-term health, not really sink in?

In many settings, it might seem easy to understand what someone means when they say they feel optimistic about things. Perhaps this is because they are only talking about a simple A or B scenario, and one of these options is clearly better than the other. But in the context of cancer care and experience, this kind of word seems to have a much more complex set of possible meanings. What is it to feel optimistic? Is it an absolute statement, and if not, how much room for doubt does it imply? For those dealing with cancer every day, either in a clinical setting or in personal experience of treatment, how important is this word? Could we even argue, using this word can be risky?

When you hear the word Support used in relation to cancer care, do you think of something that is completely positive and helpful? Can it ever feel difficult to accept help from others? If you are a patient, do you feel comfortable asking for support, whether from close family, clinical caregivers, or acquaintances? Does Support suggest the small ways patients can be assisted day to day, or more major things that make a difference in a patient’s overall care? Does the word mean the kinds of help that only a family member or close friend can give a patient, or can it also include help from staff and clinicians around the Cancer Center? Can even the smallest gestures of help, from strangers to us, really be considered support?

The word survivor might seem clear-cut, but what does it really mean? This month we will be thinking and writing about what it is to survive cancer. When can we say that a person affected by this disease has survived? Is surviving something that happens once, or over and over again each day? How do those supporting a patient with cancer, either personally or professionally, understand and deal with the complicated meanings of the word?

The word “wish” seems to imply something we really want, but does it also suggest that some things are beyond our reach? Does Wishing for things in the context of cancer-care more often refer to the everyday are patients and family members expect from our clinicians, or the biggest things we can imagine? Does the fact that this word has these two quite different meanings make it less useful or less helpful to us, making small things we expect in care, treatment and support seem more like pipe-dreams?