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.


Anonymous said...

Alli, I finally made it to your blog. Thank-you for this post, I too had the same question. I guess if we have lived thru the situtation then we are a survivor. "What doesn't kill you makes you strong", and you are the strongest survivor I have met yet. I enjoyed your blog on camp as well. Take care my friend and hope to see you back in Montana, or Idaho.... Kathy

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your really thoughtful article. It is now widely accepted through the health care system that at diagnosis, every person becomes a cancer survivor. I like your additional thought that even when a person passes away, they are still remembered a cancer survivor for their journey.

kris said...

Alli, you ARE a total survivor! So am I, and so is every other person of any age who has been diagnosed and gone on to fight the battle to overcome the cancer, no matter what the eventual outcome might be! Each time I walk into one of my oncologist's offices, or into the treatment room, I see fellow survivors. Each time we make it through an exam, a test, a treatment, another day, we are survivors. YES, we are fighters, but that seems to me what makes us survivors. I have friends who have achieved cures and friends who have eventually left life as we know it, but they have all been fighters and survivors to their individual journey's end.

September 25 will mark three years since I was diagnosed, and I am still here, facing each day and each challenge, celebrating the 7 month remission I enjoyed, and awakening each morning thankful for the chance to take another breath, continue treatment, talk to others with cancer, and enjoy every moment God grants me with my family and friends.

Thank you for the Teal and Livestrong dates; I will be marking them on my calendar and posting them on Facebook and My Space for my friends to see and mark their calendars.

By the way, I checked out your Alli Cooks blog two weeks ago and used your recipe for the quick stir fry. DELICIOUS was what my family said when I served the dish. Thank you my fellow survivor for that recipe.

Healing hugs,

Trish said...

I have to agree-if you have ever heard the Dx, you are a survivor. I am coming up on 4 years since Dx 18+ months since my first NED that was repeated at the next check. I have melanoma, it never goes away, it just goes into hiding, into small enough pieces the docs haven't figured out how to find it. there is no remission technically for me. But, I have lived longer than anyone in my family who ever was Dx, so I also call myself a warrior.

and I have to say, just because you don't think you will die of natural causes as an old lady, doesn't mean you aren't a survivor. anyone who has survived a day with cancer is a survivor, anyone who has endured chemo is a survivor! living thru barfing from the bottom of your toes is surviving!

keep surviving A, keep surviving!

Shopping Kharma said...

Thank you for such an awesome post! I'm following you!) You are a survivor and a damn tough one at that. I am so glad to have found your blog; I know I have seen it before but you know chemo brain. I don't remember if I have commented before. I too am fighting; I only had 3 and half years of remission but plenty of breaks from chemo and radiation; now we are trying to get stronger from a total of 7 major abdominal surgeries, chemos and radiations in between can do a body wrong or so it seems. I also call myself fighter as well; we are a combination of both after all!) May you experience a break between chemo and remission on the way! I have recurrent ovarian Cancer and I keep beating expectations on survival (nearly 8 years). I wish you all the best! Peace and Love to you!

dr.gregory b. harris said...

allison-have any of your doctors ever taught you how to fight cancer with food? no chemo, rad, or other drugs are needed. please consider contacting me. i teach my patients how to prevent/reverse cancer and other chronic diseases and think i can be of benefit to you and your family. 775 223 8260 dr.gbh
ps-please don't take this the wrong way, but splenda, eggs, and sugar are not the solution (i looked at one of your recipies).