28 May 2012


Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a brilliant essay called Welcome to Cancerland  for Harper's Bazaar in 2001 http://www.barbaraehrenreich.com/cancerland.htm in which she says:
"Does anyone else have trouble with the term 'survivor'?' I ask, and, surprisingly, two or three speak up. It could be "unlucky," one tells me; it "tempts fate," says another, shuddering slightly. After all, the cancer can recur at any time, either in the breast or in some more strategic site. No one brings up my own objection to the term, though: that the mindless triumphalism of "survivorhood" denigrates the dead and the dying. Did we who live "fight" harder than those who've died?" 

By definition, everyone is a survivor...one that survives...to remain alive, to continue to function.  Society however, celebrates most cancer survivors - bestowing upon them a rarefied status as if we'd come through a great battle - blazing with glory.  Some survivors would agree, others would take the stance that cancer is a man made disease, supported by the continuing abuses of man made products and then chemoed to near-death by man made pharmaceuticals.  These are the "mad as hell" variety of survivor - the type that are more comfortable using the word victim.

Wikipedia makes this highly interesting comment on the definition of a cancer survivor:
"The ideal survivor, like a superwoman who simultaneously manages her home, family, and career, struggles valiantly to prevent cancer from affecting loved ones by appearing, behaving, and working as much as possible. Once the immediate crisis is past, the person may feel strongly pressured to donate time, money, and energy to cancer-related organisations. Above all, the ideal survivor does not die of cancer. People who publicly conform to this ideal are given social status and respect." 

Good grief!  "Social status and respect" - for conforming and not dying (publicly) from cancer!  I'll certainly try not to!

I think if we were arguing the semantics of the word "survivor", we could come up with any number of alternatives but what is really at odds here is society's head-in-the-sand approach to the realities of cancer survivorship - ignoring the ongoing physical dramas, psychological scars, relationship struggles and financial worries.
On June 3rd, National Cancer Survivors Day http://www.ncsdf.org/ - a day for all survivors wherever they are on their journey - I will celebrate being alive - continuing to live.  I welcome this opportunity to educate and increase awareness (with or without the promise of social status) - and hopefully earn society's respect by working hard for answers for those who have gone before us as well as for ourselves.

There is an excellent website called Survivorship A-Z http://www.survivorshipatoz.org/ which includes topics which are extremely practical without the sugar-coating. 
As well, http://www.livestrong.org/  was formed for survivorship and the challenges which a survivor faces in the real world.  They have a national network of Centers of Excellence in Survivorship which provides support of all types.

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