My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women

Survivor? Who, Me?


From Steven King's, The Stand

From Steven King’s, The Stand

Just a few short weeks after my diagnosis and mastectomy, I attended the Stupid Cancer conference here in NYC that an old friend helped get me in to.  Being an cancer newbie and in the throws of information overload, the beginning of treatment and with more looming on the horizon, I was overwhelmed and frightened.  One thing that took me by surprise and it happened almost immediately as I walked through the glass doors into the conference center was that I referred to as a “survivor.”  I was confused and shocked by this.  “No, no, no,” I thought!  “I’m not a survivor.  I was just diagnosed!  I just had my breast removed.  I have cancer!  I’m not a survivor!”  But it took me all of an hour there to realize that anyone who attended, regardless of where they were in their cancer process was referred to as a survivor.

The word survivor has never sat well with me.  I don’t feel like I’ve survived anything.  Maybe it’s because I’m just out of treatment as of a hot second ago and still going to the hospital for my clinical trial and physical therapy, I feel like I’m still trudging along.  I know I have been through so much but I still have so much more to go.

The first Sunday of every June is National Cancer Survivors Day so this Sunday, June 7 is the day of celebration.  According to the “Official Website Of National Cancer Survivors Day” a survivor is “anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.”

For the remainder of life.

Just the idea of having to call myself a survivor makes me feel like Atlas with the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I have to carry that label with me for the rest of my life?  Well, maybe I am a survivor.  One dictionary defines it simply as, continuing to exist.  I guess I’m doing that but aren’t we all?  Further down it also defines survivor as one who continues to function or prosper despite many hardships.  I have done this as well, I suppose.  But “survivor” is a loaded word.  It has a subtext.  I can’t quite put into words why it feels like that for me or what exactly the subtext is, but it’s there.

Anyway, I don’t feel like a survivor.  I don’t feel like a warrior.  I just feel like a have been put in a shitty situation and I did what I had to do to get myself out of it.  I don’t even know if I”m totally out of it.  I still feel stuck and dragged down.  Am I living and surviving despite feeling like crap, being poisoned, being put into menopause, having a body part amputated…?  Yes, I am.  But not happily.  I’m not a peace with it.

No, I’m not ready to call myself a survivor.  Not until this experience is long behind me.  Far, far behind me.

The low lands call
I am tempted to answer
They are offering me a free dwelling
Without having to conquer

The massive mountain makes its move
Beckoning me to ascend
A much more difficult path
To get up the slippery bend

I cannot choose both
I have a choice to make
I must be wise
This will determine my fate

I choose, I choose the mountain
With all its stress and strain
Because only by climbing
Can I rise above the plane

I choose the mountain
And I will never stop climbing
I choose the mountain
And I shall forever be ascending

I choose the mountain

Howard Simon


6 thoughts on “Survivor? Who, Me?

  1. Carrie, I felt the same way when I did the Revlon Walk right after finishing my chemo treatments. I was approached by one of the volunteers at the Walk. She said, “are you a cancer survivor? go pick up your hat!” The hat had the word “survivor” imprinted. I grabbed one but I could not wear it because I did not feel like I was a survivor for the same reasons you explained: I wasn’t finished. I am still not finished with life.

    But even after I was done with all treatments, the word “survivor” still bothered me for other reasons. It still bothers me today. To me being called a “cancer survivor” minimizes all the effort I’ve put into surviving all the other challenges I have faced in my life. I simply dislike the label. Like you, I did what I was told. We have been lucky our bodies have been able to handle it all.

    Also, being called a “survivor” almost suggests that those who have died from this disease didn’t survive by choice. It feels wrong to me to celebrate this day because so many have died. And those with stage 4, who are still living (and technically surviving) are still been left behind.

    I wish there were no labels at all. I dislike a lot of the languages used in cancerland and all it does is create separations and competition.

    • I agree with everything you said. But there’s something even more than all of this for me and I don’t feel like I can articulate it yet. The word “survivor” just feels uncomfortable and wrong.
      And yes, I hate all the labels as well.

  2. Nicely stated. I’ve struggled with “survivor” and “warrior” also. The words feel wrong for where I am in the process. Maybe I’ll feel differently someday, but now I’m “struggling” and “getting by.”

  3. Such a lovely post, I feel the same as you and the other ladies above. These words are so loaded I struggle to use them. Survivor is the worst for me, as irrational as it is I cant shake the feeling that when I get to being a ”survivor” it might only be temporary and that I will have to go from ”survivor” living life back to ”patient” in active treatment.

    • Yes, it’s all so delicate! I feel like this can be only temporary and then what? I know that people are empowered by the word “survivor” and then that’s great for them. But for the rest of us, we have to find something else or let the cancer community know that we are ok without a label.

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