The Language of Cancer

When I was diagnosed with cancer I was transplanted from a familiar world governed by work and family into a strange new realm ruled by doctors and nurses. The hard surfaces of hospitals and clinics replaced the carpeted coziness of home and office. I entered Cancer World. And to some degree, I've lived there ever since.

Cancer World doesn't just look different. It has its own language and dialect. In addition to medical lingo and its shorthand—like BX (biopsy), DX (diagnosis), MX (mastectomy), TX (treatment)—there is the slang patients sling in waiting rooms, online forums, blogs and support groups.

I've lived in Cancer World so long now that the slang feels like my native language—and that makes me feel more at home. For newcomers to Cancer World, here are some catchphrases:

*Dancing with N.E.D.: N.E.D. means "no evidence of disease," and "dancing" is what you feel like doing when you hear those words. Now there's a rock band called N.E.D., six gynecologic-cancer surgeons who give concerts and record albums to raise awareness about women's cancers

*The new normal: This is not as good as the old normal, and it wouldn't have felt normal before you had cancer, but it's normal now

*Foobs: Fake boobs, a.k.a. prostheses, worn by women to fill bras emptied by mastectomies

*Flatitude: Flat pride, expressed by women who've had a mastectomy and wear their flatness with confidence

*Dog ear: The bulge of flesh where your incision stops and your body begins after you've had breast surgery

*Kicking cancer's butt: War cry often heard from women with cancer, sometimes uttered while wearing stiletto heels and lipstick

*Getting your mojo back: The return of that old loving feeling after treatments ate your sex drive

*Chemo brain: A misnomer, since research suggests this form of forgetfulness afflicts women who don't undergo chemo as well as those who do. It really should be called lump brain

*Metavivors: Women whose cancer has metastacized, a.k.a. metsters

*Cancer friends: The beloved sisters you meet in waiting rooms, radiation chambers, support groups and just on the street, friends you might never have made were it not for the diagnosis you share

There are many more idioms that have entered my vocabulary. And you probably know some I don't. Please add to the list …


Megan Rutherford

Megan is a volunteer on SHARE's Breast Cancer Helpline.