Per definition "An individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis, through the balance of his or her life. Family members, friends, and caregivers are also impacted by the survivorship experience and are therefore included in this definition." from the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.
The minute a doctor tells you that you have cancer, you are considered a survivor. You remain a survivor for the rest of your life.
Many people who are survivors struggle with that term. Even though the term was coined to include those who have incurable cancer, or those who are in active treatment, many people hear survivor and assume that it means a person who completed treatment and no longer has cancer.
And so survivor can feel like an awkward term to call oneself, especially during treatment, especially if you know the cancer you have will probably be what kills you, especially if you do not feel that cancer is a gift.
Not long ago, survivor was expanded to include the family members/care givers of the person with cancer. Many of these people have trouble calling themselves survivors too.
For me, it is a strange place to be in. I'm a "survivor" but I didn't do anything special to be a survivor. I did not do anything to get my cancer and I didn't do anything special to make it go away. Science happened. Something happened in my genes, and some of my cells turned into cancer. Science happened. The doctors gave me standard care and at this moment, the doctors can't detect cancer in my system anymore.
But other people in the same boat, go through the same treatment and the story ends differently. It is hard to accept that it's just luck of the draw.
We as people want to grab onto something. "I don't eat x, so I can't get cancer. I meditate, so I can't get cancer. I sleep 8 hours a day, so I can't get cancer. I never drink y, so I can't get cancer. I pray every day, so I can't get cancer. I exercise, so I can't get cancer." It's natural. IF we can isolate the ONE thing that causes cancer, we can protect ourselves, and our loved ones.
However, cancer has existed long before our modern lifestyle. It predates sugar, and gluten, and pollution, and electricity, and we could keep going and going and going.We have found bodies with cancer that are 3000, 4000, maybe even 7000 years old.
That's not to say don't be healthy. Because you should be healthy. I think we all know that by now.
And there are ways to reduce your risk of cancer. Reduce. Reduce. Reduce.
There are not ways to eliminate cancer.
We haven't figured out how to do that yet.
I wish we had. But we haven't.
So, today on National Cancer Survivors Day, think of your friends and loved ones who have/had cancer. Think of those who are still here, going through treatment. Think of those who are still dealing with the after effects of treatment. Think of their families and the people who care about them. And think of those of us who are missing someone today.
But also, remember, that tomorrow, you could find yourself in this group of survivors. Remember that even though you are healthy, there isn't a guarantee that you won't get cancer. Remember that cancer predates many of the things that people say are giving us cancer. And remember that some of the people you know, struggle with the term survivor - and that's okay. And some of the people you know embrace it fully and wholly - and that's okay.
There are over 15.5 million survivors in the US today. The only connecting thread for these 15.5 million people is that somewhere in their life, a doctor told them they had cancer. We are a group of people with a wide range of feelings on the term "survivor."
As for me, the term doesn't bother me, but I don't feel a kinship with it either. I suppose I'm ambivalent about it really. Today will be a day like any other. I have nothing special planned. I'm recuperating from a virus I've dealt with all week. I'll watch too much tv. I'll knit some. And I'll go outside to enjoy our beautiful weather.
For me, today is just any other day.
Other days in my cancer story, I mark or I celebrate.
But today, today, is just an ordinary Sunday.