National Cancer Survivors Day is on Sunday, June 5.
And I won’t be celebrating.
Sorry to sound like a bitter ingrate, but I take issue with a day that celebrates cancer “survivors” and leaves those with metastatic cancer in the dust of victory.
In fact, I take issue with the word, “survivor.” According to Dictionary.com, the word “survive” means: “to endure or live through (an affliction, adversity, misery, etc.)” and “to get along or remain healthy, happy, and unaffected in spite of some occurrence.”
Does this definition fit those with metastatic cancer? Most certainly not. For those with mets, cancer is more than just an adversity to be overcome. And, let’s face it, people with this disease don’t necessarily remain “healthy, happy, and unaffected.”
The National Cancer Survivors Day website has a page called “Who is a Cancer Survivor?” It lists several criteria that “defines” who makes the cut as a survivor. Here’s one gem from the website:
“If you’re living with cancer as a chronic disease – you’re a survivor.”
Maybe I missed something here, but since when is metastatic cancer a chronic disease? Such deceptive, veiled language pretties up the ugliness that is cancer. Here’s another definition of “survivor”: “If you’re currently in active treatment for cancer – you’re a survivor.” I think the people who put the website together just threw this in in a feeble attempt to cover those with metastatic disease.
And here’s my favorite: “If you’ve beaten cancer and been declared cancer-free – you’re a survivor.” Ah, the old tried-and-true favorite: the battle metaphor stating that if one is NED, they have won the battle against cancer. Nobody I know has “beaten” cancer, yet the battle metaphor lives on.
Let’s be real: These feeble definitions of cancer survivorship also don’t fit for those people who lived through cancer and are currently NED (no evidence of disease), the so-called “survivors,” people for whom the national celebration is really aimed at.
People like me.
I’m under the survivorship umbrella, but it’s a raging shit storm out there.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad I am NED, but the jury is still out on whether I survived cancer according to the aforementioned National Cancer Survivors Day criteria. Regarding cancer survivorship, a hip hip hooray feeling eludes me. The bridge toward survivorship and greener pastures is rickety.
Here’s a synopsis of my post-cancer life. Most of the time, I live in a state of gratitude. I paint and write and read. And take nature walks, appreciating all that nature has to offer.
But while I’m grateful to be alive, I’m not grateful I had cancer.
I will never be grateful to have had cancer.
Cancer is ugly and devastating. To me, survivorship is akin to living under the Sword of Damocles. It’s like being placed in Edgar Allen Poe’s story of terror “The Pit and the Pendulum,” where the narrator finds himself facing a pit where he will fall into a never ending abyss, as the walls literally close in on him bringing him closer and closer to the pit.
I can only speak from my own experience.
Survivorship has been exceedingly difficult for me. Between the panic caused by oncology appointments and intense scanxiety that only those in the cancer world can understand to PTSD to fatigue to chemobrain to cancer paranoia — survivorship pretty much sucks.
Yet, despite all this, I know how lucky I am to have survived. I don’t need National Cancer Survivors Day to remind me that I’ve beaten cancer.
Truth is, cancer has beaten me up pretty badly.
Do you like the word “survivor”? If so, do you consider yourself a cancer survivor?
If so, how has your survivorship experience been?
Tags: breast cancer, cancer, metastatic cancer, National Cancer Survivors Day, PTSD, survivorship