“You’re not a survivor, Mom!” Molly said when we went to check in at the Relay for Life this morning. “Au contraire mon cheri. I’ve survived cancer for 51 days since my diagnosis,” I replied while picking up my purple t-shirt.
To be fair to my younger child, it was kind of a wake up to me when I first encountered the idea of calling myself a cancer survivor, as opposed to a cancer patient. “Don’t I have to beat it, first? Doesn’t it have to be cured?” The second question is more pertinent to me, since there is very little likelihood at this time that my cancer will ever be considered to be cured. I may not die from cancer or cancer related issues, but I will probably die with cancer.
Immediately after diagnosis, I went around feeling sure that my days were severely limited, that I’d be lucky to see my next birthday (in November, for those keeping track). I know that many in my family were having similar reactions. But, as I’ve gone through the surgery to remove my kidney and have healed well from that and am feeling really quite healthy, I’ve started changing the tune in my head. It’s no longer a funeral dirge, and while it may not be the most upbeat pop song out there, it is a comfortable and generally happy tune.
I don’t feel like a patient. I don’t feel sick. I don’t act sick. I’m not in the hospital. So describing myself as a patient seems alien. But at the same time, the word survivor isn’t always comfortable for me – again, coming back to the question of “Doesn’t it have to be cured first?” Looking around the internet, it appears that I’m not alone in this discomfort with the term. Perhaps some of that comes from a discomfort with the ideas of death and dying; we want to know we’re going to live through something.
I am still not comfortable yet with the idea of dying. At least, not of dying in the next 20 years. (Will it ever be comfortable?) But it’s less about not wanting to die and more about wanting to live. And not just live, but to thrive. I think I’m well on my way to that, for how ever long I’ve got.