No One Wins When We Police Fight Terminology in Health Care

When we police a patient’s right to use fight terminology in health care, everyone loses from the absence of  their story.

When we police a person’s right to use fight terminology, everyone in healthcare loses from the absence of their story.

Articles and tweets advocating for the death of fight terminology in health care’s lexicon frequently pop into my social media feed. I understand this position. My heart bristles at the sound of the phrase “lost their battle.” Knowing what I do about pain and illness, I believe my friends and family’s deaths were not a capitulation, but an exit. Maybe you feel the same.


I also know this: In the fight for health, there is not a winner and loser, but there are many battles. To deny a person’s right to say this diminishes their truth. It’s also privileged and c

alloused thing to demand a fellow patient to edit their experience. (It’s jarring to see words like “privileged” alongside “illness.” Modern media would have us believe the inspiration fairy  bestowed us an extra dose humanity because of our illness and disability.) Centering yourself and your belief’s into someone else’s is wrong.


We are united by the unknown of illness. Some of us must watch our loved ones slowly die (or fear facing the same fate) because we can’t afford health care. Others remember holding in rage in a meeting with heads of the largest insurance companies to do right by everyone and us. Some have to leap to floors, even as we ache from cancer or arthritis, because they lived in war zones or dangerous neighborhoods. More patients than we realize walk into doctors’ offices scared of receiving poor care because of because they are a person of color, because of their sexuality or because they are transgender.


Some of us are tired of ringing the alarm bell and hearing silence, or worse, demands to censor our story. It is a fight. These three words don’t diminish your experience. It amplifies your experience by adding a perspective of health which isn’t yours. When the health care community considers the all of the public in public health, everyone wins.


We are human beings with rights to opinions. If your opinion is that we should strike fight terminology from your health care lexicon, the offending words will not come up in our conversations, at least not on purpose. It is disrespectful and dangerous for someone to silence voices in a health care, a community that needs them all.


We can always correct and educate someone who believes there are “wins and  losses” in illness. When we police a person’s right to use fight terminology, everyone in health care loses from the absence of their story. The ironic thing is every time someone scolds me for using fight terminology, fellow health advocates enter my social circle and counter with their experiences. We can learn so much from each other. Offending words, and goodness knows what else, keeps us part.


What a loss.

I am 39.

Health activist and patient, Dawn S. Smith, celebrates her birthday by reflecting at what she accomplished living while brain tumor.

Health activist and patient, Dawn S. Smith, celebrates her birthday by reflecting at what she accomplished while living with a brain tumor.

I am 39.

I am surviving two brain tumors.

I am fighting for my life and yours.

I am most wonderful.

Off The Sidelines

"I"m Still Here" witten into sand in beach.

Dawn Smith writes “I am still here” into sand on the beach after radiation treatment for her brain tumor.

They say the sidelines are where gladiators go to rest.
Some of us can race back on the field.
The rest of us warriors must ride the pine.

Rest. It is a marathon, not a sprint, they tell us.

Beware of gladiators prowling on the sidelines.
While the world eyes the battle on the field,
we soldiers find energy in our rest

Yes. Solders on the sidelines hunger for ground.

As the world whizzes pass, we gain life inch by inch.
Our movement is steady against the wind,
Our cause, sure. The field is ours today.

This field is ours today.

Off the Sidelines: 3 Survivors Move the World (EP 1)

In this first episode of It Could Happen to Anyone (, Dawn and Dionne refuse to let anything get in the way of an interview with brain tumor survivor, Lori Paul — not even their symptoms, lack of a cameraperson or a mountain of bloopers.

How The King’s Speech Screenwriter David Seidler Emancipated Me

Dawn enjoying her freedom

Moments of liberation don’t happen often. Every now and then, someone says something that emancipates you from destructive thoughts. The CNN report on screenwriter, David Seidler, who won the Oscar for The King’s Speech, does not just inspire me. It sets me free.

Hollywood notoriously places an expiration date on its talent. Screenwriters are no exception. Scribes who do not make a splash in the industry right out of film school climb an uphill battle be a working screenwriter. This deadline loomed in my mind, often ticking louder than my biological clock. When I received a brain tumor diagnosis (and then another), the sunset of my writing career was all I could think of.

Perhaps pain or stubbornness kept me from seeing the inevitable. I ignored the complications of juggling a brain tumor (and then another) and a writing career at first. I swallowed my tears and my pride when my play made it to Hollywood, but I could not go.

As long as I was writing, I was fighting. I was in control.

But the brain tumor (and then another) began to tug on my mind, body and spirit. And the public fight against my health insurance company wore me down further. Letters to my former health insurance company and politicians replaced screenplays, and eventually even paid writing assignments.

Looking at my laptop, I’d curse myself a failure for forgetting words. The electric shock pain from my brain tumors was (and is) so excruciating I not drag myself to bathroom, much less muster up the creativity to be a writer. I’d contemplate the value of a life with brain tumors that my former boss called my “shortcomings.”

I’d helped others deal with their circumstances with my words, but the moment the brain tumors threatened my writing—my words—I could no longer deal.

And then David Seidler gave me freedom.

After wrestling with stuttering for years, he wisely decided not to confront it with paper and pen so soon after conquering it. The 73-year-old screenwriter stated the mind requires time to heal from the battle—to mature, to write about it objectively.

It’s smart advice for any writer hoping to avoid the trap of melodramatic writing. But it’s a powerful rule for health activists who can easily collapse under the weight of their stories.

David Seidler’s patience struck me more. Most writers recognize the potential literary value of their battles, especially those cognizant of the expiration date Hollywood places on talent. The media is dubbing David Seidler a late bloomer. He reminds me not to try to outrun my illness, only to crumple under the weight of false deadlines.

He got his Oscar on time. Whatever destiny awaits me is not going to match the timelines and bucket lists I scribbled out in college. I must begrudgingly trust God’s divine plan just the same.

I will still cry when I have an idea that my brain tumors won’t let me type. But if my writing is a God-given talent, I now know that no illness can hold me back from seeing my words in the fullness of their destiny.

My new freedom comes in knowing that all things come in due time…right on time.

Message to My Mountain, My Brain Tumor

Message to My Mountain, My Brain Tumor

I wanted to kiss you good riddance, Mountain, but I could not find the strength nor words.

I guess that makes you feel powerful.

What you don’t know is every time you knock me down or wear me out, I get back up again…and again, whether I believe in myself (or my health) or not.

So throw your pain at me.
Strip me of my health, career and friends.
I will soar phoenix-like or claw my back before you rejoice in your handiwork.

If you want the truth, Mountain, I feel a dose of helpless serenity knowing that you are neither friend nor foe. You are just “is.”

You are a matter of life and death sitting, shocking and kneading the life out of me for no damn reason. I cling to you, Mountain, to calm my heart from cruel philosophers who say your presence is written in Heavens or the stars. You, Mountain, are in God’s hands.

As long as you are what you are, Mountain, I have to be what I am…strong.

Knock me down, Mountain, my brain tumor, if that makes you feel powerful. Tomorrow, I’ll just get back up again…and again.

Love Heals. Are Your Friends Doing It?

I braved my symptoms today to pose a simple question: If love heals, are your friends doing it? It is no coincidence that the ABC News study discussing the healing power of friendship came out so close to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Everyday acts of kindness — no matter how small — have a healing effect on those facing health care battles.  Life becomes more enriching when you focus on healthy friendships, instead of people who take up space and energy.

Please pardon the appearance of my friend, SavannahWhite, who is always worth my energy.

Elizabeth Edwards & the Person in the Casket

Much has been said about how Elizabeth Edwards advanced the cause for health care for every American — how she met adversity with matchless grace and dignity.

But family members do not mourn through the lens of politics.

Seven years ago, President Bill Clinton stood over the casket of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson inside the Atlanta Civic Center. Politicians preached to the choir of Atlantans that the only way to honor the lion of the new south was to attach Jackson’s name to the airport he made a global success. With Mayor Jackson’s grieving family members behind him, President Clinton reminded mourners why they were present.

A man was in the casket. Atlantans were mourning someone’s husband, someone’s father, someone’s friend.

When a light such as Elizabeth Edwards dims (only to shine in the next world), family members feel the loss more. The person in the casket is not a health care advocate, creature of politics or an embattled wife. She is a mother and, yes, still someone’s wife and a friend.

Want Good Health Insurance? Run for Congress.

Politician Pushing Healthcare

The freshman congressman balked at the lapse in health care coverage. After all, someone who works hard should reap the rewards of their labors. Any lapse in health care coverage — even if it is just for one month — is a risk no American should take.

This story isn’t the struggle of a politician fighting on behalf of a constituent. It’s the stance of Congressman-elect Andy Harris, who ran on repealing health care reform. The incoming congressman inquired during his freshman orientation about the gap between the start of his Congressional term and the government-subsidized health insurance available to members of Congress.

Democrats are seizing the opportunity. Democrats in the House — Joe Crowley, Donna Edwards, Tim Ryan and Linda Sanchez — are challenging GOP Representatives to align campaign rhetoric with action by dumping their government-subsidized health insurance. In a “Drop It or Stop It” ad (below), Americans United for Change is urging GOP members to drop their health care plans or stop threats to repeal health care reform.

The problem is Republicans and Democrats with the loudest voices often have the greatest access to health insurance.

They cling to their own government-subsidized health insurance, and refuse to give it up to prove the merits of the free market system or the public option. Their constituents must carry the cross. Republicans preach the need to carry the load for the sake of “our children,” and forget that their parents (and many children) are languishing by the wayside in the meantime. Democrats — seeking perfect health care reform — are often willing to allow millions of uninsured and underinsured flounder to prove a point.

On the eve of canceling my enrollment in the federal high-risk insurance pool, I can attest that neither Republican nor Democrat’s rhetoric or deeds meet the needs of everyday Americans. Deeds are bound by theatrical rhetoric. While Congressman-elect Andy Harris benefits from his government-subsidized health insurance, he will justify keeping that same plan from the people he serves. Across the country, Americans will question if politicians should be responsible for such a personal decision.

Who Do Progressives Punish When They Don’t Vote?

Voters are marching to the polls to send a message in the midterm election. That message, according to polls and pundits, is an angst rooted in social issues and the economy. A narrative has frequent play in the 24-hour news cycle: Where is the enthusiasm from progressives who were fired up during the 2008 presidential campaign?

The enthusiasm gap between progressives and conservatives is evident on comment boards, with many potential voters expressing their discontent for the Obama Administration coming up short on health care reform, financial reform and other legislation. Progressives’ grumblings are not analogous to the over hyped “civil war” of our conservative friends. These progressives are threatening not to vote, to sit on the sidelines.

Progressives or conservatives aching for change can’t afford to sit on the sidelines. And, with one in seven Americans living in poverty, chances are that person aching for change is you or someone you know.

Thanks to many of you, health insurance companies can no longer drop you from your policy without proving fraud. Parents can no longer feel the sting of health insurance companies denying coverage to their children because of a pre-existing condition. Young adults can stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until they are 26. And millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions can finally receive health care with a state or federal high risk insurance pool.

Health reform is not perfect. Anthem Blue Cross, Aetna and other health insurance companies announced their plans to drop child-only insurance policies in several states. Americans stand to lose more (not to mention the opportunity to fight back) if sideliners don’t vote.

Who do progressives punish when they don’t vote? It is not politicians with their secured retirement. Perhaps these sideliners can afford to sit this election out because their lives are perfect. At least 40 million Americans’ lives are not.

Civil rights leaders did not brave the movement because they were presented with the perfect politicians, conditions and laws. They challenged an imperfect system, and made it better. I did not embark on the MoveOn-Stand with Dawn campaign for the “you go girls” and external support that would disappear as quickly as my health insurance. I participated to discuss the health care crisis with stories behind the statistics. I did not anticipate that my own symptoms would worsen in the following months. It takes courage to do your part, no matter how small, to perfect a union, and this courage does not come from political parties, PACs or presidents.

Am I encouraging sideliners to vote to toe the line? No.

Don’t vote to align yourself with progressives or conservatives. Vote because of the social issues or financial concerns that keep you awake at night. Vote in the spirit of civil rights leaders who never waited on the sidelines. They knew every vote and every action had the potential to inch this country toward a more perfect union. Every vote and every action was a message with weight.