What Is A SURVIVOR?

First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to wish a very Happy 70th Birthday to my dad, Len Strang.  We had hoped that all five sisters would be together to celebrate the event, but unfortunately, the youngest could not make it.  It has been many years since my whole family has been together under one roof, and I felt it important that we get a family picture.

Dad bday 2

Happy Birthday, Dad!

“It could be ten years before we all get together again”,  I insisted, “A lot can happen in ten years!  We might never again have this opportunity!”

My sisters nodded solemnly and replied, “Yeah, Dad is really getting up there now.  He might not even be around in ten years.  We need to do something to mark this occasion.”

Whoa!  Whadda ya mean Dad might not be around in ten years?  He will only be 80.  Of course he will be around. It’s ME I’m worried might not be around.

I did not speak those words, but that is exactly what I was thinking.  It surprised me to learn that my family doesn’t think that way at all.  They seem to see me as someone who has “beaten” cancer, a true survivor. They see cancer as part of my past, not something I continue to struggle with on a daily basis. Isn’t that how society sees us SURVIVORS  as well?

When I was diagnosed with Stage 111 breast cancer in April, 2011, I really struggled with the term “survivor”.  While I was going through treatments, I referred to myself as a cancer warrior.  I figured that the word survivor was reserved for those who had beaten cancer, and were declared cancer-free.  I was holding off on labeling myself in that way until I was sure that there was no evidence of the disease left in my body.

After my last treatment, on March 30th, 2012, my Oncologist gave me the all clear.  Yet I was still reluctant to call myself a survivor.  After all, the type of cancer that I had yielded just over a 50% five year survival rate.  I decided that I would not be hasty.  I would wait until the magical five year mark was up, and then I could truly call myself a survivor.  It would be impossible for cancer to touch me after that critical time had elapsed, I thought.

I made myself a survival plan, to get me through to my five year “cancer-versary”.  My plan included taking the hormone-inhibitor, tamoxifen, healthy eating, taking supplements, drinking more water, exercise, and stress management techniques.  While doing the research on how to remain cancer-free however, I made a startling discovery.   I learned that there is no cure for cancer!  (I suppose on some level I already knew that, but I didn’t think it applied to me.)  Reaching the five year mark will not guarantee that I will be cancer-free for life.  Those sneaky little cells can lie dormant in my body for decades and come back to get me!

I then made two life transforming realizations: 1. That from the day of my diagnosis until the day I draw my last breath, I am a cancer survivor.  2. Cancer was more than just a temporary disruption in my life.  It is something that I will “battle” for the rest of my life in my fight to remain cancer-free.

So yeah, everyone, I am a cancer survivor.  However that does not mean that I have “beaten” cancer, as there is always the risk of a recurrence.  It means that I take on every day with a survivor’s attitude in my fight to remain cancer-free!

Dad bday 1

The fam, minus sister Lynette

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12 thoughts on “What Is A SURVIVOR?

  1. Happy Birthday to your dad!! Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by the thought that cancer will always be “with” me. I want to deal with this and move on – leaving it behind me. But that’s not possible for us and we have to make sure we don’t let it consume us while we use it to our advantage and live full lives!

  2. Florence…..you echoed my thoughts, exactly. I, too, am a stage 3c survivor….I hated that word but you put it in perspective for me….thank you. After two yrs of fighting fatigue and all the other fallout from treatments I have finally reached a point where I feel life is back to normal…..albeit a new normal. I am back to work. Glad you are doing well and I look forward to reading your blog. I won’t be attending the Retreat this year as my 14 and 7 work schedule won’t allow it. Take care, Rosanne.

  3. Happy birthday to your, Dad! I’m glad you realized you were (are) a survivor all along. Why not? Who is stopping us from claiming it? Who cares if the cancer is or isn’t there – we survive at diagnosis, treatment, in NED and whatever else might come, even if it includes mets. Just being here is a miracle, and I really thinkwe’re all survivors (if we want that label). Good on you 🙂 ~ Catherine

  4. Pingback: Sharing a post from a fellow blogger | The Cancer Kitten

  5. Just getting a chance to read the blog. I think I wished your dad a happy birthday back then but my mind plays tricks on me these days, so…Happy belated Birthday Len and many, many happy, healthy ones!! As for you Miss Florence I wish you all the best in your fight to keep this terrible disease at bay and to live a very happy, long life. As a mother of a cancer warrior, I can assure you that your mom feels the same about the disease as do I and you…we hate it. It is never forgotton, just in the background just patiently waiting, but we are very blessed to truly know what it is to appreciate each sunrise, each season, children’s laughter, love and most of all, the pleasures of the simplities of life. I still say a novena for you every day as I do for all cancer warriors and survivors. Stay strong and faith will get you through, you will be there to tell these stories to your grandchildren!!

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