Commentary: Being Their Worst Nightmare: On David Perusek's “Cancer, Culture, and Individual Experience”


  • Arthur W. Frank


My comment describes what has remained the same and what differs between David Perusek's report of recent cancer and my experiences in the 1980s. Pink-ribbon culture, with its benefits and dangers, is new, but the obtuse things people say are remarkably constant. I discuss why I have become more sympathetic to people's difficulty responding to those who have cancer, and why I have come to accept the troublesome word survivor. I extend Perusek's argument to issues of life after cancer treatment ends, and I affirm his rejection of “battle” metaphors. Finally, I discuss people's responses to cancer as an instance of generalized reliance on recipes as ways of dealing with what is uncertain. I argue that a distortion of the meaning of hope is part of the fate of our times.