I Hated Being Called A Cancer Survivor, Until I Realized… It’s Not About Me.

sur·vi·vor
sərˈvīvər/
noun
1. a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.    
“the sole survivor of the massacre”
2. the remainder of a group of people or things.   
“a survivor from last year’s team”
3. a person who copes well with difficulties in their life.   
“she is a born survivor”

 


When are you considered a cancer survivor?

As an Oncology Nurse, I’ve heard this discussion and been asked my opinion many times. Is it after the cancer has been removed in surgery and you’re considered cancer free? Is it when you start treatment? Or when you finish it? Do you have to finish treatment to get the title? Is it after a certain amount of time? I used tell my patients to choose the timing that felt right- but encouraged them to say they’re a survivor from the moment they found out they had cancer… I would tell them “you’re ‘surviving’ aren’t you?”.

When it was my turn to ride the cancer train, I realized for the first time how much emotion can be tied to the word. And as it turns out, I didn’t like my own advice. I started to get called a survivor pretty early on in my journey- and I hated it. I’m not sure why, but it just didn’t sit well. The most I could muster was “I’m currently cancer free” but would still think “as far as I know” to myself directly after. It seemed to me that many of those with cancer connected with the word right away- wearing the shirts, listening to the songs, screaming it from a mountain. When I was first diagnosed, I was almost jealous of how much strength they seemed to draw from it. Whatever helps you fuel your fire- I say let it burn. But the word survivor just wasn’t for me, I sure didn’t feel like I had survived anything. To be honest, it all just felt like a huge jinx. Like I was willing something to happen that I had no control over.

I avoided the word entirely until just a few weeks ago when I was cleaning out an old purse and found a little blue “survivor” pin fastened to a piece of cardboard. I don’t even remember when I received it or who it was from- but I found myself staring at it for several minutes. Especially the little saying on the cardboard: “Wear this ribbon to give others hope”. Others. For the first time I realized that being called a survivor is not about me. Calling myself a survivor shows everyone around me that they can accomplish hard things. Calling myself a survivor means I stand in solidarity with those who have cancer and will never “finish” treatment. Calling myself a survivor honors those who have battled cancer before me… living or not. But most importantly (to me), calling myself a survivor shows those diagnosed with cancer after me that this mountain can be climbed. Me being a “survivor” is about them.

Well, it just so happens that I have the perfect job for spreading this hope- so I promptly placed that little survivor pin on my work badge and decided I’d wear it proudly for my patients and co workers to see. I felt like I had somehow just been given permission to use this honored title. I don’t often bring up the details of my own diagnosis to my patients, as I’m always cautious to not shift the attention to myself during their crisis, but wearing this pin can represent so much more than words. Just like the little cardboard said, it can bring hope. Something we all crave so deeply. And if you think about it, out of all the cancer types, out of all the cancer stages, out of all the different experiences, outcomes, and stories- the word survivor is the one thing that connects us all.

So- hi, my name is Lindsay… and I am a cancer SURVIVOR.

Long story short, I survived

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7 comments

  1. I always enjoy reading your posts! I too am a survivor! Check inoperable stage 4 colon cancer. My oncologist is at KU. Maybe I will be you some day!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This touched my heart in a way that I haven’t experienced in a while when talking about being a survivor. I have Multiple Myeloma. I was diagnosed in July 2013. Went through a Stem Cell Transplant in November 2013. Have been in and out of remission and am currently experiencing good positive response according to my doctor – a nice way to say I’m not in remission but not doing too badly. Your perspective of being a survivor for others is right up my alley. I’m a teacher and have always considered how my words and actions affect others. When I thought about using the word survivor when I am not doing that well, it didn’t feel like a great fit, but then I thought if you are a survivor of something like the Holocaust – even at the end of a person’s life they would still be called a survivor. So, at the end of my life I guess being called a survivor until I breathe my last breath would still fit.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is exactly what I have been struggling with!!! Friends introduce me as a cancer ‘survivor ‘ and I cringe. Deep down I am afraid to accept the label — the badge because I was Stage 4.. and I have read the statistics… I know what my odds are — and by claiming to be a ‘survivor’, I feel like I am just waving a red cape in front a bull’s face, daring it to take another run at me. It already took another swipe at me when the cancer 8 months after chemo showed up in my adrenal gland… It felt like it was saying ‘So you thought you beat me… not so fast’ … Thank you for putting into words what I am struggling with. Hopefully I can accept that I have survived a lot … and embrace the name survivor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • you continue to inspire. Even as a former caregiver, I feel what my wife has gone through. You say the words my wife cannot say or express. when I go back and read your posts, I feel like i am in the front seat almost experiencing it myself. Are there any support groups you know of in our local area for caregivers?I have looked without success.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this post. I felt some guilt calling myself a survivor because of all of those who did not make it through. You have given me a reason to say i ama survivor.

    Liked by 1 person

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