I don’t like the word “survivor” when it’s associated with cancer. It really bothers me. I mean, REALLY bothers me. It really bothers me society views cancer as a battle because either you survive a battle or you don’t. It’s that simple, but cancer? Cancer isn’t simple.
Cancer should not be quantified as a battle. Those with cancer should not be quantified as survivors because that implies those who die from cancer lost a battle; therefore, by definition, they are victims or losers. It’s just not that simple.
If I die from cancer, I am not a victim, and I am certainly not a loser. If I die from cancer, I will succumb to a disease like millions of others. It will not be from lack of trying or because I did something wrong.
There is no fault in someone who develops Stage 4 disease. Some are diagnosed at Stage 4. They did nothing wrong. A person who is arrogant enough to believe someone with Stage 4 disease did something wrong or didn’t do enough needs to remember cancer will affect 1 in 2 people over the course of an average lifetime according to the American Cancer Society. So, sweet summer child who believes he or she will never develop cancer, maybe you will be that magical person or two who lives life without ever developing cancer, but for the rest of us, cancer is a real risk or already our daily companion.
For the last eleven months, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what I did wrong. I’ve spent a lot of time blaming myself. I’ve spent a lot of time being angry. I’ve spent a lot of time being afraid.
Occasionally, in an effort to cheer me up, well-meaning friends will quote, “No one is promised tomorrow,” and they’re right. Tomorrow is not a promise. We feel we’re entitled to a tomorrow and a next day and a next. But, are we? How are we any more entitled to a tomorrow than someone else? We hope for a tomorrow. We hope for a future. It’s not wrong to hope for a future. I hope for a future, yet I drove to where our new house is being built today, walked around the foundation, and in my head, I saw where the bedrooms will be, where the family room will be, where the kitchen will be, and I thought, “Maybe I’ll get to live here. Maybe I won’t. If I do, it might not be for very long.” Morbid thoughts? Absolutely. Wrong thoughts? No. I don’t know if, or for how long, I’ll get to live there. I hope for a future there, but I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I know I want to live there with A and S and AJ. I know A and I see it as our forever home, which it ironic since we both know I won’t get a long forever. I get for now…however long for now might be.
Here’s the thing: A person without cancer is no more entitled to believe they have a tomorrow than a person with cancer. Should I entertain thoughts of my death? Probably not, but I don’t get to believe I’ll live to be 40…50…60 or beyond. I have (had?) cancer. I don’t get to see myself as immortal, which we, as humanity, do. We know we’re going to die, but since we don’t know when we’ll die, we see ourselves as living a long life, of having a forever.
I used to pray for a long, healthy life. God didn’t answer that prayer of mine. I also used to pray that my children, my husband, or myself wouldn’t develop cancer. God didn’t answer that prayer of mine, either, but you know what? At least it’s me. I’d rather it be me than S or AJ or A. You know why? Because as much as I’d like to live until I’m 101 and die in my sleep like my great-grandmother, at least I’ve grown up, and I want S and AJ to have the chance to grow up. I’d rather it be me than A, and since it is me, what else do I say?
My days on this mortal coil are numbered, but so are everyone else’s. I just feel it more urgently because I’ve been touched by cancer. My grandfather died of lung cancer. He started smoking as a teenager and smoked until he was in his fifties. He died in his sixties. My grandmother died of ocular melanoma. She was in her eighties. My other grandfather died from complications of Alzheimer’s. He was in his eighties. My other grandmother died in her sleep. She was in her late eighties or early nineties. I believed I would live a long life as they all did. I saw no reason why I wouldn’t. Then, cancer happened at 37, and I realized it’s pretty unlikely I’ll live to see my 50s or 60s or beyond. Somedays, I feel like it’s unlikely I’ll see my 40s. And, you know, it’s not fair. But, life isn’t fair (how’s that for cliche?). It really isn’t, though. Life isn’t fair. My current lot in life isn’t fair. I have (had?) breast cancer.
But, I’m not a survivor. I’m not in a battle. I haven’t won the battle. I haven’t lost the battle. I’m not a winner. I’m not a loser. Cancer isn’t a battle. Cancer just is. Cancer is a disease. I have a disease. My disease has treatments, which I’m undergoing, and if/when my cancer comes back, it will have no cure. There are more treatments but no cure. More money goes to early detection or breast cancer awareness campaigns than treatments for Stage 4 breast cancer. We don’t need early detection or breast cancer awareness campaigns. Who isn’t aware of breast cancer? Thanks to pink washing, we’re very aware of breast cancer. We need treatments. We need cures. We need the cancer moonshot and other initiatives to produce results for all cancers. Cancer is more than one disease. Breast cancer is more than one disease.
No matter what, no matter who cancer touches, cancer should not be quantified as a battle. No matter what, those with cancer should not be quantified as winners, losers, or survivors.
Everyone is a survivor, whether we have cancer or not simply because we’re alive. Everyone is surviving something. Everyone dies to something. My great-grandmother, who died in her sleep at 101, did not lose. No one said she lost anything. Instead, she died in her sleep. People who die of cancer, die of cancer. They did not lose to cancer…that would be like saying my great-grandmother lost to old age. How ludicrous sounding! So, why do we imply those with cancer lost to it? Isn’t that just one more slap in the face?
I realize my opinion is probably not a popular one. There’s a David and Goliath quality to cancer, and if you have no evidence of disease, you are David to cancer’s Goliath. It’s a seductive image…to defeat that which seems impossible, to be a victor.
I’d like to be a victor, but more than anything, I’d just like to live. I’d like to see my children grow up and grow old with A. I just don’t know if that’s going to happen. And, if it doesn’t happen, I don’t want to be referred to as having lost my battle with cancer. I’m not in a battle. I’m not a survivor. I’m not a loser. I just have a disease. That’s all.