Thursday, August 12, 2010

What makes a person a cancer survivor?

Recently the Texas Journal of Nursing reprinted one of my blog entries to educate nurses about the issues of young adult cancer patients. In the article the author described me as a cancer survivor. I showed the article to a couple of friends and family members and one them commented that they did not think I was a survivor since I still have cancer. It made me think about what makes a person a cancer survivor. The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS), National Cancer Institute's Office of Cancer Survivorship and LIVEStrong (Lance Armstrong foundation) all define a person as a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis and for the balance of life, a person diagnosed with cancer is a survivor.

For a long time, I had a hard time laying claim to the title of “Cancer Survivor”. It has been three years since my diagnosis and throughout that time I have never been in remission or had a test result of no evidence of disease. I preferred to call myself a “Cancer Fighter”. I felt that calling myself a survivor was tempting fate and since the cancer was still ravaging my body, I had not survived the disease.

Last fall I participated in the 24 hour cycling event, 24 Hours of Booty and when I pinned my number to my jersey, I added the “I’m a Survivor” sign as well. I decided that even though I had not beaten the cancer, the cancer had not beaten me. I had survived two years of living with cancer, months of chemotherapy, radiation treatments and all the side effects that come along with treatment. I was indeed a survivor.

When I was questioned whether I was survivor when the article came out I told the person I was a survivor, but since then I have spent a lot of time thinking about it. While contemplating about this, I have been thinking about all the people I have met that are also battling cancer. In the past three days I have learned that a 9 month old baby has had more than 3 brain surgeries and is preparing for yet another one as I type this. Another friend has learned about a 3rd recurrence just this week and is facing more treatment and the possibility of another surgery. Then there is a 5 y/o boy that has been battling cancer for two years and is having severe stomach pain that is a result from chemotherapy. These are just a few examples of those who are valiantly battling cancer and are indeed surviving it.
If we think along the lines that you are not a survivor until you beat cancer, what does that make the millions of people currently undergoing cancer treatment? I would indeed call them survivors.

I googled the definition of a Survivor. I found the following definitions.
1. a person or thing that survives; specif., a person who has survived an ordeal or great misfortune
2. a person regarded as resilient or courageous enough to be able to overcome hardship, misfortune, etc.
3. a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.
I think about those I know that have been affected by cancer and feel they embody these definitions.

Wikipedia defines a cancer survivor as an individual with cancer of any type, current or past, who is still living.

I disagree with the Wikipedia definition. I think we should go one step further. I believe cancer survivors include those that have died of cancer. Cancer may have taken their life, but if we follow the meaning of the definition, death does not trump a person being a survivor.

There are two dates coming up that invite you to celebrate with me and use them as a time to reflect on what makes a cancer survivor.

September is Ovarian Cancer Survivor Month and September 3rd is National Teal day. I invite you to wear teal on this day to remember the many women affect by Ovarian Cancer. (

October 2nd is LiveStrong day. It was inspired by Lance Armstrong as the anniversary of his cancer diagnosis. I encourage you to wear yellow on that day to support the 28 million people in the world that are cancer survivors. (

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on what makes a person a cancer survivor.