Dear John Wayne: Let’s Cut ‘the Big C’ Down to Size, Because Cancer Is a Coward

John Wayne coined the term, “the Big C,” for cancer, but I think it’s time that the capital letter C stands for something better.

Sorry, Duke, but it’s high time we cut cancer down to size and reclaim the capital letter “C” for such worthy words as comfort, companionship and compassion.

Seems “the Big C” worked its way into our vernacular thanks to iconic actor John Wayne who coined the phrase in 1964 after successful cancer surgery.

“Isn’t there a good image in John Wayne beating cancer?” the actor asked reporters attending a press conference. “Sure, I licked the Big C.”

The Duke’s Fighting Words

Those fighting words have served their purpose ever since. The Big C is uttered by those who have contracted this terrible disease and those who hope they never do. It has also allowed us all to soften the impact of one of the most dreaded words in the English language.

Of course, the Duke never intended the use of the Big C as flippant. It is, after all, a disease that wreaks havoc on millions of patients and their loving supporters. It is a disease that claims millions of lives every year, often in a cowardly fashion.

You see, cancer may often come stealthfully in the fateful night, a thief that steals time from us in the most brutal fashion, a cesspool of toxicity that invades us and batters our body’s defenses.

Cancer, “the big coward,” deserves to be diminished, denigrated and lower-cased!

So, why not bestow capitalization on other, more deserving words, such as:

  • “Compassion,” cancer’s polar opposite, is an attitude and an action directed at the one who is suffering. Compassion is ever-present, embedded in the heart of the caregiver, and is proactive.
  • “Comfort” contradicts cancer in every way, embracing and enveloping the loved one in a cocoon of loving concern. Comfort provides a joyful, soothing presence during a turbulent time.
  • “Companionship” is the gift of time and absolute dedication exclusively for the health and well-being of the one traveling this journey so fraught with roadblocks.

Cancer caregivers, good companions one and all, are also compassionate and comforting along with cheerful, calm, consoling, committed and concerned.

John Wayne, Patient Advocate

John Wayne, the action hero and Western legend of the silver screen, did not downplay his cancer. In fact, after his run-in with cancer, he became a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society.

It was Wayne who highlighted another “C” word among his famous quotes. He said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” Kind of encapsulates all of us cancer survivors, doesn’t it? (Sadly, Wayne died of stomach cancer in 1979).

So, pardners, let’s honor Wayne’s memory while we put cancer in its place and give just desserts to words more deserving.

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