Is this why people say you're "brave"?

I decided to record and watch the “Jade” episode last night as I haven’t watched it before (though am well aware of her journey through the media) and as I sat watching it felt very odd at the beginning because whilst I knew her cancer was terminal she, at the beginning of the programme didn’t. It was a very odd and uncomfortable feeling watching someone coping with chemo and their primary cancer knowing that they don’t know its going to kill them. I found it very sad and poignant to see her coping and looking to the future when I knew she only has a short time to live.

One thing that struck me, and I’ll probably get shot down in flames for this, but I began to realise why people say “you’re brave” when they talk to us. I thought it about Jade watching her and realised that when I respond to people’s “brave” comments with the “brave is where you have a choice to run or fight and I have no choice but to deal with this so brave doesn’t apply” what I hadn’t considered is that perhaps we are all brave because, though we have no choice but to go through with the treatment and deal with the cancer, we do make a choice to carry on our lives rather than to run and hide.

We, particularly if we have family/children/partners/jobs etc, choose to carry on caring for them/going to work/doing all the “normal” things we did before but with our bald heads/scarred/tired/aching bodies etc. We don’t choose to curl up in a ball and not play anymore.

Going out without your hair in public, if you choose to, to pick the kids up from school is brave.

Going to work when you are in pain/tired is brave.

Carrying on “normal” life be that cooking the dinner, going to the shops, meeting friends etc when you have “I have cancer, I might die!” running around in your head is brave.

Whilst the “you’re brave” comment can still provoke annoyance in me because I didn’t choose to get involved in this fight with cancer (it chose me), I think I may see it differently now because perhaps I can see that I am brave because I have continued my life despite my physical and emotional issues and will continue to do so and I didn’t just go to bed and say “to hell with you all”. I chose to face life and not run away.

I agree so much that being told you are brave is meaningless when said just because you happen to have cancer. But, you are right. It is how we deal with it individually and I do agree that some are very brave in that respect. To get up, dressed, try make yourself look presentable and then carry on with day to day routine like work, taking children to school, shopping etc is difficult when inside you just want to stay in and cry your eyes out and wallow in self pity. Socialising with acquaintances or work colleagues is something I find particularly stressful since diagnosis, but I make an effort and go where I could just say no. Its not a conscious choice of wanting to be brave, but to run and hide away is not an option I want to take.

The brave stuff is complicated. First of all ‘bravery’ has become a culturally overused word so it hardly carries its original meaning. You only have to watch Noel Edmonds telling contestants on Deal No deal that they are brave to turn down the Banker’s offer to realise this. (I am by the way fascinated by the parallels between Deal No deal and people’s responses to having cancer but I digress.)

I think when other people call people with cancer brave, inspirational etc that this is a way of distancing and protecting themselves from the thought that they too might get cancer. If you can put other people in a special brave box then you feel better about yourself.

There is nothing intrinsically brave about going out bald, cooking the tea, picking the children up, going to work or having a laugh when you feel shit inside and have cancer though many of these things win what I call PRBs (Pink Bravery Points.) There is definitely a hierarchy of approval about how you are supposed to behave with cancer to win most points. Being frightened, curling up, refusing tretament, these are all no nos and NOT brave,

On a personal level I think anyone facing a struggle with cancer or any other serious illness (or serious life problem) finds their own ways of dealing with their own personal demons…and to do this may indeed be personal bravery…though not something which has to be publicly lauded. If you are needle phobic and you endure blood test after blood test and canula after canula then for you that is ‘brave’ but no one on the outside can know that or say it of you.

And finally what are we to make of the people who have cancer who are not stoical, somewhat wimplike, indeed ‘cowards’…those unspeakable people who don’t cook the tea, don’t pick up their children and wear wigs…or worse still refuse treatment. Do we dump them in another category of people who are not worthy of help and support?


I found your post interesting Jane.

I am intrigued as to what your thoughts are on Deal or No Deal and responses to having cancer?

I agree that brave is an overused word.

I was terrified going back into work today ironically because I WAS wearing a wig (my new short back to work wig) and because I am happier without hair (but have I think decided to wear a wig for when I start back proper in 2 weeks) and could almost feel a panick attack coming on (I’ve never had one so am guessing but was certainly physically feeling it). I wanted to go home and re-think the whole wig/hair work issue I have but forced myself to walk into the station and meet the eyes. Was I brave or am I just determined to find a way through this and a way to cope?

I think your “pink bravery points” are amusing, though I get the point. You are saying its not brave such as running into a burning building to rescue someone (stupidity some might say!) but has its “brave merits”.

I too agree that people without serious life illnesses and problems are “brave” on a daily basis but no-one feels the need to speak out and praise them for it. They are just doing it.

People sometimes tell me I am brave for doing the job that I do - “I couldn’t do it, you’re so brave” which sort of implies I am a “brave” person when I am not. Yes I get scared walking into some of the things I do and want to run away but force myself to go anyway so perhaps I am “brave” then or just earning police bravery points (PBPs)?

Your point re those with cancer who do run and hide or refuse treatment is good. I wouldn’t dream to criticise someone for dealing with it that way and say they are not “brave” - why should they be “brave”.

Hmm, so I have reached no conclusion…

Hiya girls

I’ve not been here for a while, been ‘getting on with things’. My question is, why do we have to be labelled at all. We are, after all, human beings who have been through a horrible, horrible time. So many people go through awful, devastating experiences and come out the other side - why should it make them brave, inspirational, weak, sad etc. etc. My own personal view is that I’ve been through the most horrendous experience ever, but I am me - I’m not brave, inspirational or whatever, I am Julie. I remember a time when I felt that I was a mum and a wife and wondered where Julie had gone - well she is here and why should cancer ‘lose’ me again. I don’t want to be a victim, I don’t want people to look at me and whispher ‘she had cancer’, I just want to be Julie (oooh, Jane I may be coming over to the dark side at last - how are you my friend?).

Whatever we have been through, we are who we are, scars and all.

Julie x

I love your comments Jane!

Brave to me is a concept I cannot get to grips with. We live in a society that determines bravery by some strange ideas - it’s brave to enter a reality contest and eat live worms etc!! Gaaah!!

So what is brave? I don’t know. I suppose that my definition of brave is someone doing something I personally wouldn’t have the guts to do. But my sense of fear is just that … mine! So my definition of brave might be different to someone elses.

I struggle to describe people as brave when they’re doing the jobs they’ve chosen. That’s choice and the ability to do it. I see nothing brave there … sorry!!

I struggle to describe as brave the cancer journey. Yikes! We do what we have to do because we have no other choice. Most importantly and where I totally agree with Jane is that by creating definitions of brave, we dismiss those that don’t reach whatever ideal society has set us.



I do agree that being brave is a very personal concept and people tackle difficulties in different ways. For me, being brave or having courage is to attempt something that I fear. And Jane, I disagree, going out with a group of friends when I feel shit, is brave for me as I find it so awful. Other people may not find it such as problem so doing that is not brave for them; likewise the needle phobes. I treat them on a daily basis and to see them persevere with having an injection when they are shit scared is most definitely brave and I can most certainly recognise how difficult it has been for them. For me, I couldn’t give a toss about what society expects from me in terms of being brave. That’s their problem, not mine and I would never dream of labelling anyone as a coward because they don’t conform to society’s ideal or act as others do. I have no idea what they might attempt that I know I would find difficult or even not attempt. So bravery is a very personal and individual concept, and so is how we deal with cancer.

i was very moved by what you have written. I have followed Jade over the years and have said the same thing, about her being brave. My heart goes out to her and her family and I feel so sad for them.
We are all brave throughout this, we have to be, and now can fully appreciate what our family and friends mean when they tell us that,as they see it from the outside.
deb xx

I find the whole ‘brave’ discussion most interesting. I probably would have chosen courage and dignity in describing Jade… but then they are my words and reflect my understanding of them and my impression of what i observe in Jades attitude and behaviour regarding her cancer.

I suppose its easy to be offended, frustrated or what ever when other peoples views jar with our own. I think Brave is a fine way of describing people and not because some arn’t brave. People have said it to me… and i have been ok with it. I think they have used it mainly because i have a positive outlook. I do remind people that you don’t change your personality just because you have cancer. ie cheerful glass half full person may well continue to be like that despite others’ ideas about how cancer ‘should’ affect you. I feel fortunate with the disposition i have (though not always) as it has been such a source of strength to me through difficult times. But i totally recognise that others do not have my upbeatness … but they didn’t have it before cancer either so why should they suddenly be all positive now… especially faced with the shit statistics i keep reading about!!! Im positive because I am… not as a result of cancer or in any way connected to cancer… I just am.

Having said that I think its a shame to get stuck on word choices. They mean such different things to different people. Even if i wasn’t feeling brave and found the word patronising, I hope i could acccept the good intentions of the person descibing me in this way. I feel touched and blessed by kindness, thoughtfulness and well wishes of others. It makes me feel more connected to my community. I try not to scrutinise what they say and would rather draw on the positive sentiment. Of course like so many on this site i have encountered less favourable comments/reactions but if im up to it, I give as good as i get… otherwise, life’s too short…

Thanks for letting me ponder. Iv appreciated this discussion… it has been thought provoking

Never have thought of myself as being brave and never will I remember 4 yrs ago going through treatment, a work colleague said to me i was brave … it got my back up as i felt it was patronising and just something to say and they didnt actually have a clue. Perhaps because it was all so new to me and I didnt feel in the slightest brave more like terrified I certainly could not identify with the brave word.

Fast forward 4 years later, I can see things with slightly different eyes now… I would say from diagnosis to perhaps finishing chemo all in 9 months all i felt was terror and fear, kept a diary during this time period, god thats scary reading now cannot believe the dark place I was in. Not words from a brave woman - thats for sure ! Also the whole losing hair issue, I could not let anyone see my bare head well other than my baby at the time, think my husband only saw it a handful of times, such was my low self esteem with it…so never in a million years would i have said i was brave. I felt more like a failure. Still do regarding that. When I see Jade Goody in newspapers with her bald head held high I feel absolute admiration and respect for her and i dont know but for me I feel she is extremely brave in what she is doing, being a young woman, mother to two young children and letting the world know her private business, her courage and strength through this horrendous ordeal shines through especially now as she has so little time left.
I googled the word brave and found this one which was one of the many definitions :

Having or showing courage especially when facing danger, difficulty or pain.

I think this is something we all have done whether we want to or not.


I think the word brave is def overused in society in general, and cancer in particular.

During my very ordinary life up to the age of 48, I came across many people with cancer, some friends, close family or mere aquaintances.

I would say they were brave at a drop of a hat because to me then, cancer was this terribly scary illness that killed loads of people, so coping with it was brave in my eyes.

I used to imagine what it was like to knowingly carry around a tumour inside your body, growing and invading and how terrible that visual image would be.

My good friend and colleague got BC, recovered, then got mets and sadly died in 2008. I was in awe of her ‘Bravery’. She thought I was mad to think that.

Now here I am, 2 plus yrs down the line. I went through many hard times and I am sure will suffer many more. But if anyone tells me I am brave I feel decidedly uncomfortable as I am NOT brave, not really. Because I HAVE to live with this, cope and get through. It is not a choice.

However, in a complete contradiction, and on reflection, I AM very very brave, because I could just curl up and go to sleep, but I keep going, as most of us do.

So I would say we are all very very brave, but in our stiff upper lip Britishness, we just feel embarassed to admit it!

Would anyone say our partners, family are brave? I know my husband has been gutted about my diagnosis, in fact probaly taken it worse than me but he (like others in my family) have courageously carried on doing the day to day stuff that needs to be done in order to survive. Are they brave?

I know what you mean IreneM. Both brave and not brave…but a word I like to use for myself and don’t want others to dump their use of it on me.

As for families, freinds etc yes I think it is harder in many ways for them.

I don’t have children or close biological family. I have a good circle of friends and my partner who has been a tower of everything wonderful to me since I got cancer. When I die the sometimes agony of what I’m going through will be over for me but her agony, grief and loneliness will carry on. A partner with no children, left in mid life has a hell of a lot of sadness and grieving to bear.


I think being ‘brave’ is about choices and why you make them.We cant choose not to have cancer so enduring it isnt brave at all.If we go about our daily life most of the time that isnt brave either because we all do what we have to do.Treatment is a choice but it isnt really to do with bravery or cowardice but our own self knowledge of what we can or cant cope with.This is quite close to my heart at the moment because half an hour ago I finished a 90 minute meeting with 3 medical students,sent by my GP,to discuss bc.At the end one of them said,'I think you are really brave to have gone through all that.'I replied,'Am I?What choice did I have?'One of the others said,'Well I couldnt have done it!'I asked them to think about the alternative to ‘doing it’.I gave them each a printout of the Peter Harvey article then I ‘bravely’ waved them goodbye.
Love Valx

Val I was wondering how your student meeting went. How interesting!

I think others use words like ‘brave’ and ‘inspirational’ as a way of distancing themselves from the possibility of having to cope with something nasty themselves. If one can attribute worthy characteristics to others who are have some misfortune we dread, then we can convince ourselves it will not happen to us.


I disagree, I think people use terms such as “inspirational” and “brave” so as to not distance themselves from the situation but to show the respect they have for the person going through the situation whether it be cancer or another disease.

I liked what Val said to the students … people say we are brave to have got through all the treatment partly as they don’t think they could do it as the student said, and I think partly as they admire for the person they say it to for coming through it all and still be standing as they fear they would not fare so well.
This is until ‘they’ become ‘us’ and hit something really huge and life-threatening and realise that everyone just gets on with it the best they can. We can all ‘do it’ albeit with the support from our friends, faith, family, sites such as these, medical staff etc etc but often don’t realise that till challenged.