Yesterday was National Cancer Survivors Day, and I just went meh. Wait–make that hell no.
I don’t ‘do’ Survivors Day. My lack of enthusiasm is manifold. First of all, cancer is not a damned day. For many of us, there is no life ‘after’ cancer. Nope. As I’ve said before; been there, doing it. This is present tense.
And then there is the word survivor. I loathe it. Survivor is too much, too little, too late. If you haven’t stopped to read the definition of survivor lately, let me refresh your memory:
Yuck. Who wants to be the ‘person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.’ Or the ‘remainder’. I suppose someone who ‘copes well’ is a good thing but then again, a rather serious understatement when you are talking about cancer.
The word ‘survivor’ is inadequate. It is also implicitly negative/ugly. No one wants to be ‘the sole survivor of a massacre’–we want everyone to survive. Ever wonder where survivor guilt comes from? Look no further.
In the past I have referred to myself as ‘surviving cancer’. The verb vs noun thing seemed to better capture the fact that I am now and likely always will be in treatment.
However, after thirteen years of surviving, I’m sick of this shit.
From now on, I reject both verb and noun in favor of a far more positive/forward thinking term. I am living with lung cancer.
And you know what? There is no guilt associated with being alive. If you’re not already there, join me.
Survivor: a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.
Today is National Cancer Survivor’s Day. I’m happy for all that find reason to celebrate but this particular person with cancer won’t be in attendance.
Being (still) alive is both swell and notable, but I am going to be a party pooper due to some ongoing issues with the terminology associated with today’s celebration.
The distinction between a survivor and a non-survivor not only disregards, it is also somewhat disrespectful to everyone who really wanted to stay at this party but could not; the many who cancer has forcibly taken. Labeling someone a survivor seems to imply that remaining alive is merit based when in fact, so much of who gets to stay and who has to go is attributed simply to chance.
Secondly, I don’t care for the been there/done that feel of a noun such as survivor. My relationship to cancer is not and likely never will be past tense. It may look easy, but this staying alive stuff is hard, hard work. It’s a full time job and I am laboring all the time; there are no days off when you have terminal cancer. Therefore, I prefer an active word–a verb. I am surviving cancer.
Words have power. I feel that survivor is meant both to honor (sort of the anti-victim) and to comfort–to help those who are labeled survivors to feel both safe and victorious. I appreciate the intention but honestly, I have no use for either recognition or a false sense of security while fighting my disease. What I do require is knowledge, courage, strength, hope, love and increased funding for cancer research. These are tangible tools that I can actually utilize as I go about the real work of staying alive.