Their resentment was based on the idea that "lost" implied the victim* was weak or hadn't tried hard enough to confront the illness. The truth is that most do everything in their power to survive, yet still lose.
I gave this some implicit backing in a blog post in May this year, when I mentally berated a person intending to comfort me when they said
"If anyone can beat this, it's you."
I said nothing at the time, but wrote on the blog (waspishly I now see):
It's well meant, and a huge compliment in one way, but some have no idea the way it makes me feel, if I am going downhill - which, bit by bit, I am, going by the objective evidence. It makes me feel that I've failed, and am continuing to do so. Are you expecting me to conquer this thing that no-one in the world has overcome before? Pardon me if I "fail". I'll do better next time if I can. I'll try harder, I promise.The fact is that when John Smith loses his battle with such a disease, there's nothing inherently wrong with saying so.
Many will remember the Australian Open Tennis final in January 2012. I certainly do. Rafael Nadal was playing Novak Djokovic.
"I went to sleep before it finished," someone said on the phone later in that day, "Did Nadal win? I wanted him to."
"No," I said, "he lost, but it was one of the greatest battles of all time. It went to five sets."
Nadal lost that fight. I don't remember anyone saying he was a wimp. After a match that took nearly six hours, who would dare? He lost, but displayed fantastic courage right up to (and after) that last point.
It's often the same with a person who dies of cancer. They’ve done all in their power to stay alive, but against an attacker which over time has so many advantages, they may well lose their fight. It's no criticism or disrespect to say so. Even the use of the word "fight" indicates otherwise.
There does come a time when a person has the right to a peaceful death. An acceptance of its inevitability. They should not be denied their right to appreciate when they have reached that point. Nadal lost the battle, and walked off with great dignity. Let's not deny that right to the terminally ill.
Afterthought, Tuesday, 9 October 2012 [My late mother's birthday.] 10:20 AM: What I was also reaching out to was another thought: there is also no weakness in knowing the right time to yield (I use that word deliberately, but "accept" is also a fair description.) Chess players see no loss of face or dignity in resigning a game when they know several moves from the end that they have no avenue of escaping inevitable defeat. There is far more dignity in that than in playing it out to a conclusion that even Blind Freddie can see coming.
*The word "victim" is another that many might baulk at, because these days it's regarded as a loaded word as well. **sigh** Writing anything these days is like walking through a PC minefield. Maybe I shouldn't use "Blind Freddie" either? Well, guess what, Freddie may be incapacitated, but it doesn't mean I think he's stupid.