Tag Archive | survivor attitude

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

Awesome Weekend

Let me begin by saying, that while I recognize the word “awesome” to be one of the most over-used words in the English language, I just had an awesome weekend with Shawn and our friends, Don and Phyllis in beautiful Terra Nova Park.

Flo and Shawn on the Terra Nova River

Awesomeness, of course, is a very personal thing.  I am sure that for some, driving hundreds of kilometers in an ATV, hiking through insect infested trails, cooking beans on a Coleman stove, and peeing in an outhouse, would be more the stuff that nightmares are made of.  But for me, it was a totally awesome experience (sorry, there’s that word again).

It was a weekend of eating too much, drinking too much, and laughing….lots (you can never laugh too much).

The cook-up with Don and Phyllis

 

I had my trusty Nikon along to capture memories of the weekend, but some of the most poignant moments are recorded only in my heart.  One such moment was standing on an old bridge watching the sunset over the hills as Shawn fished in the river below.   Don walked up to me and said, “Ya know, Flo, this is what life is really all about, moments just like this.”

Those words really struck a chord, not only because of the obvious wisdom contained within, but also because of the respect I have for this man.  About ten years ago, he was diagnosed with leukemia and given 3 to 5 years to live.  Don is a survivor.

The word “survivor”, like the word “awesome” means different things to different people. Recently I took part in a lively debate in the blogosphere about the term cancer survivor.  While some people proudly wear the label, others find it outright offensive.  I GET both sides of the argument.  If you take the term SURVIVOR to just mean someone who physically outlives cancer, then I have a problem with it.  It implies that those who outlive cancer, are somehow stronger, or fight a better fight than those who die from it.  That is utter nonsense.  If the will to live and putting up a good fight were all that it took to beat cancer, I can think of many people who would be alive right now.  On the other hand, if you take the term SURVIVOR to mean someone who uses all the resources within and around them to give the best fight that they possibly can give to beat this disease, then I proudly wear the label!

So when I call Don a survivor, I am not referring to the fact that he has outlived his original prognosis.  I am referring to the way that he has lived his life in the face of this diagnosis.  Don credits his survival in part to the fact that he did not stop living when the doctors passed him his death sentence.  Rather he took on new challenges, set new goals, and continued to fulfill lifelong dreams.  That is what makes him a survivor, and if the day ever comes that leukemia takes his life, then in my books he will die as he lived: A survivor!