Like a phoenix – on re-emergence and identity

I have commented previously on how I use different names in different contexts. Rebecca is my formal and professional name. I use Becky with close friends and within the breast cancer community. When attending conferences, I’ve been able to use the name as a signal. People that know me well or read my breast cancer blog will call me Becky, others will call me Rebecca (which is what is on my nametag). Note that although friends in the breast cancer community call me Becky, my healthcare team call me Rebecca – this is in part a safety issue, which I blog about here.

In September, I’ll be attending the QUB ePatients Conference – The medical, ethical and legal repercussions of blogging and micro-blogging experiences of illness and disease, Queen’s University Belfast. The conference has a very narrow focus, however, that focus aligns nicely with the new path my research is taking.

At the conference, I’ll be reporting on a survey that I did that looks very peripherally into the impact breast cancer blogs have on those who read them. I’ll be presenting the information as an auto-ethnographic narrative, in part because when it comes to breast cancer blogging I cannot be objective. The commentary from the surveys illucidate different stories (narratives) within my own lived experience. So my presentation will be in part my story, and in part a report on survey results. This is a whole different type of conference presentation, and I’m excited to be able to give it.

This presentation will challenge my identities. They will clash at this conference. I will attend as Rebecca J. Hogue unaffiliated scholar. I will present as Rebecca J. Hogue, but I will be presenting about my lived experience as BC Becky (stands for Breast Cancer Becky). I have not yet figured out how to be both Rebecca and Becky within the same space. I don’t know who that person is yet.

I had an interesting conversation the other day with a fellow survivor about profile pictures. About how the picture that was used before cancer isn’t a picture of the same person. This is very obvious when you consider hair. Looking at old pictures is a reminder of who I used to be. The hair is a signal that is triggered by old profile pictures. The new has not yet emerged. I’m only part way there. My hair is still stupid short because the first growth after chemo (chemo hair) is not normal hair. I don’t have a new professional profile pictures yet. I don’t know what I want that picture to be yet. I don’t know who the Rebecca J. Hogue + BC Becky person is yet. I’m still a pheonix, emerging from the fire anew. I’m ready to start the re-emergence process, but I’m not at the end of that path yet.

  • Becky


  • Interesting identity coupling. I think of you as Rebecca based on my initial impression meeting you as a Master’s student at Royal Roads. Rebecca doesn’t feel formal or a professional identity thing, more like how do I name someone who graduated while peacocks were squawking in the background? Maybe Becky feels to casual though, peacocks or not.

    My experience of cancer has changed me too. It wasn’t as intense as the heart failures that were like high speed smash-ups. Cancer was like 10 months of fighting to hang onto my identity while being treated as just an undeserving annoyance. I’ve put a lot of thought into how fix this whenever it is that my brain comes back. But what is it I’m looking for? Do I want people to recognize they treated me badly? To apologize? Does it matter?

    Since I don’t know if the cancer has returned, this isn’t really ever going to close. If I end up back in the mess do invest in making it a better experience by having THEM change? No, they can keep themselves and I’ll change.

    This might be the only choice we have whether our caregivers were saints or rats. Even if I need, I don’t want to be dependent. There has to be a way to get through this as a whole person. Not sure how though.

  • This is a common struggle — finding your true identity after cancer. It’s interesting how you’ll have two identities merging into each other at the same time. Truth is this is my life right now. I am stuck between two identities too. Although I want to bury the old me because it makes things less complicated and I won’t be disappointed when I don’t meet my expectations about me. I continue to be two different people though: the cancer patient and the “need to keep on living” person. Partially, this is because the non-cancer world doesn’t understand the cancer world so I adjust accordingly. I think with time we will end up having only one identity because the non-cancer world eventually catches up.

    I want to wish you good luck with your presentation. No matter what name you end up using, I am pretty sure you will stay true to yourself. At the end, that’s all that matters.

    You will do great! xo

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