noun: survivor; ‘a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died’
Yup, that’s me. So why am I boycotting the ‘cancer survivor’ title?
It comes down to two problems.
1 – It insinuates that other people weren’t strong enough to survive, as if it were a choice or a sign of weakness. We all know this isn’t true, but I feel like the continued use of this title can unintentionally offend bereaved individuals.
2 – It suggests the battle is over. You are a cancer survivor now, so it’s time to live everyday like it’s your last and become an even better, brighter version of yourself. Stress.
I want to expand on the latter problem. This affects me everyday. It affects my decisions, my self-esteem, and my mood. And it has for over a decade. When my treatment ended, there was an elevated period of time where everyone around me was so happy, so thankful, so excited for me. I was excited for me. Because overnight, everything had changed. Scan results came back and I was officially cancer free. I had gone from cancer patient to cancer survivor. And I was ecstatic to not have a bout of chemo on the horizon.
And, slowly, more things started to change. Everyone started telling me how lucky I was. Which is true. I’m very grateful that my body responded well to treatment; that was shear luck. So in that sense, yes – I am lucky. Lucky beyond belief. But this luckiness overshadowed how unlucky I was to develop bone cancer in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the people around me are positive and would focus on the good in my situation, but I wish someone would have affirmed that the whole ordeal was incredibly unfair and traumatic.
For over a decade I felt wrong, confused, and disgusted at myself for feeling sad about my diagnosis and treatment. And everyone calling me lucky really added fuel to the fire. The phrase obviously came from a good place, and I don’t blame them for the harm it caused, but the truth is that I would have really benefitted from a friend or family member validating my sadness by simply saying ‘wow, your treatment was really hard, how are you feeling about it now?’. If you’re reading this and you know someone living in remission, would you feel comfortable asking that question? A common misunderstanding about remission life is that you stop thinking about treatment, but I can confirm this is not the case. So maybe bringing it up will make them feel better. Given, it might seem out of the blue, but it would help start a conversation about how they feel. Maybe they will feel ok, maybe they will say it doesn’t affect them much anymore. Every remission life is different. All I know is that, for me, I would have benefitted from being able to comfortably discuss my feelings.
So that’s why I’ve stopped calling myself a Cancer Survivor, and started saying that I’m living in remission. And I think that it would help relieve the pressure of living in remission if we stopped using the Survivor title.
A recent article ‘Considering the Term “Cancer Survivor”‘ on CancerToday.org discusses this issue (in a much more concise way than me) if you want to take a look – https://www.cancertodaymag.org/Pages/cancer-talk/Considering-the-Term-Cancer-Survivor.aspx
Let me know if / how this has affected you, I would love to hear people’s views on the topic!