Today I found myself seeking out definitions of cancer survivor. In my context, I don’t know what it means to be a survivor. I certainly am a cancer warrior – I’m in treatment, I am living each day – but what does it mean to survive?
Some definitions involve the time after treatment, when you given a stamp of being “cancer free”. This doesn’t happen until after surgery, when the cancer has been removed from your body. But I do not know, with breast cancer, when I will be considered “cancer free”. After chemo, there will be surgery, after surgery there will be up to 10 years of anti-hormone therapy. Am I cancer free after the surgery if I’m given the all clear? Then the fight isn’t against cancer itself, it is against ‘recurrence’ – which is an invisible devil. Is that when I become a survivor? Or, am I a survivor if I remain cancer free after the anti-hormone therapy? When do I get to start celebrating my “cancer free” life?
I have been loosely following the blogs of a few women with metastatic disease. These women are fighters – they are everyday warriors – and in my view I see them as survivors – as they have learned to live “with” cancer. So, in their case, survivorship becomes more about a mental process – about how they see themselves. With each day that they fight and they live, they are survivors.
One of my fears is that I become a metastatic survivor – because the strength required to live with cancer is a lot greater than the strength to fight cancer. Chemotherapy is hard, and the entire thought of chemotherapy to slow the disease rather than chemotherapy to kill it, is impossible for me to contemplate right now. I can fight this, because I am a warrior and one day I want to be a survivor!
As I wrote this post, I had the song by Scandal “The Warrior” going through my head – so I made Scott get up from reading his book and dance with me … cause ‘I am the warrior!’ I can see this becoming a regular ritual in our household!