My sister-in-law Teresa recently brought this article, “I Have Cancer. Please Don’t Call Me a ‘Survivor’” by Howard Wolinsky to my attention (the article may require setting up a free login to read). It captures my reluctance to be called a cancer “survivor” or “warrior.” Some people adopt one or both of these labels readily–that’s fine with me. But I won’t wear either on a t-shirt.
The “Survivor” label suggests I’ve successfully lived through cancer and cancer treatments. I haven’t. My cancer is incurable and aggressive. My treatments will continue until I go on hospice. “Survivor” is too shiny and tidy to describe my experience.
“Survivor” suggests someone who has been through an arduous hero’s journey, engaging the cancer in battle, enduring the horrific treatments to attack cancer, getting past toxic side effects and coming out the other side having conquered the killer. — Howard Wolinsky
Many in the prostate cancer crowd embrace military metaphors, such as cancer “warrior.” Personifying my cancer as an enemy gives it more humanity than it deserves. Myself, I feel more like a battleground than a warrior. And “warrior” carries with it expectations for how I will feel and behave that often don’t describe me.
“Fight metaphors [are] also not good. When we lose, that means we didn’t fight hard enough. I think most of those terms and phrases are for the ‘non-cancer’ folks so they can feel better, not for us.” — Rich Jackson, quoted by Howard Wolinsky
Having rejected two of the most popular descriptors, I am left in a quandary. What is my relationship with cancer? My favorite designation so far comes from one of my support group friends. I am a Professional Cancer Patient. It’s what I do for a living. Literally.