Reframing Cancer Survivorship

Today, on  National Cancer Survivors Day, I am asking the question who are cancer survivors and is it really necessary to set aside a day to celebrate survivorship?

The terms cancer survivor and cancer survivorship  have different meanings to different people, and how we refer to this growing population of people living with cancer has stirred some controversy. Here is just a sample of some of those in the blogosphere for whom the term survivor is an uncomfortable label:

I don’t like labels very much. I tend to avoid them whenever I can. The survivor label is one that makes me uncomfortable for various reasons ~ Nancy’s Point

I am conflicted about the term survivor.  To me, a survivor is a person who has been utterly victimized, who is powerless and suffering at the hands of something or someone that is about as close to pure darkness as exists in the world. ~ Uneasy Pink 

I’m not comfortable with that word, “survivor,” which connotes some sort of superhero who has battled and defeated the demon known as cancer….The problem is that on a subliminal level (or maybe not too subliminal), there’s a blame game going on: those who survive did something heroic; those who don’t survive just weren’t tough enough ~ Calling The Shots

Survivor, to me, sounds too triumphal, too final, like it’s finished – all over. But breast cancer is not like that – as I am finding – now approaching four years from diagnosis ~ Being Sarah

So, I am faced with a dilemma. I use the term cancer survivor but I too am sensitive to labels and words and their meaning, particularly those that make the wearer feel victimized and helpless. But what should we call this phase for those of us for whom active cancer treatment has ended? No one has yet come up with an all-encompassing term to cover it, apart from survivor.

Perhaps you too struggle with the label. Or do you embrace it as a sign of having come through a trial and survived? What if you are living with metastatic cancer? Do you feel the exclusivity of the term survivor focuses attention upon those who are living, essentially erasing those who are dying from the disease?

My next question to you is do we need to set aside a day to celebrate survivorship? Is it perhaps too triumphalism? What of those who didn’t “survive” cancer on this day?  Or is it a good thing to have a day when we unite together in a show of solidarity of our collective survivorship?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I would love to discuss them with you, so please join in the discussion and let us know what you think of National Cancer Survivors Day and survivorship.

Related Posts

Defining survivorship

Why words matter

Survivor loneliness of women after breast cancer

The story doesn’t end here…