Friday, November 7, 2014

The Words I Use

Over the past few weeks I have taken part in a number of tweet chats and Facebook discussions that revolve around the words we use when we are diagnosed with cancer.

People diagnosed with cancer and those who treat them often use the term "survivor". The NCI definition of survivor is:

 "One who remains alive and continues to function during and after overcoming a serious hardship or life-threatening disease. In cancer, a person is considered to be a survivor from the time of diagnosis until the end of life.".

When I was in treatment I called myself a cancer patient. When I finished treatment I called myself a survivor and that word choice was solidified when I attended the LiveSTRONG Survivors Summit in 2006. Then I recurred, I wasn't sure what to label myself- I was a cancer patient and a survivor.  At the time I was on my cancer center's Survivorship Day planning committee.  I even questioned whether or not it was OK that I be a committee member since I had recurred and was back in treatment. The chair told me she considers everyone from the day of diagnosis as a survivor. Since that day whether I am in treatment or not I have called myself a survivor.

I know there are women with recurrent ovarian cancer or metastatic breast cancer who don't like the term survivor. Susan Gubar shares her thoughts on words like survivor in this article from 2012.
( ) Women are looking for a different word to describe their situation. What to you say when you are living with cancer? What about women who are living for long periods of time with stable disease and are not in treatment? I have read that some use the word "thriver" . That is an interesting word - thriving while in treatment and thriving between treatments.

In other online discussions, I have found people do not like using words that relate cancer to terms of war such as battle or fighter. When I was in treatment I felt I was in a battle. I was in a battle for my life. And my weapons were the chemotherapy drugs I took and the support I had and the prayers I said. I visualized the chemo traveling via my blood into the cancer cells and killing them. Yes, I fought cancer. And I would not have been able to do that without the expertise of my doctors and their surgical skills and their ability to offer me clinical trials and chemotherapy options. Will I recur? I'm not sure but if I do I will fight again.

Do I think any less of women like Pam, Sharon, Rita Kay, or any of the other women from my support group who died because of their disease. No. Do I think they didn't fight hard enough? Heck NO! If their families want to say they "lost their battle" I am OK with that.  And if you are in cancer treatment and you disagree with me that's OK you may have your opinion and I have mine. Two pieces, one by Aria  Jones (  ) and one by Kate Granger ( ) offer the opposing view. This article "Fighting Battles and the Language of Cancer"in  Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer  discusses metaphors and feelings of guilt in those with terminal disease ( but suggests the metaphors are important as a tool to handle our experiences . You may make up your own mind as to which terms work best for you.

I know by putting my thoughts and opinions on this page I open myself to people who will disagree with me. That is fine as long as you do so while respecting my opinion of the words I choose to describe my journey with cancer.

Every Day is a Blessing!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I never understood the distaste for the fighter metaphor. So what if the battle is lost? The main thing is that one has fought a good fight and done ALL that was within one's power to do.