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National Cancer Survivors Day: What is a Survivor?

Last updated: June 2019

Survivor. Warrior. Living with cancer. Living in spite of cancer. Everyone has a unique way of talking about their experience as someone who’s part of "the club you never wanted to join." In honor of Cancer Survivors Day 2019, we're discussing the word survivor. We asked our communities how they feel about the term.


Some fully embrace the term survivor. "I'm glad to see a lot of Survivor responses. That's what we all are until we're not," one member said. Another described how she identifies as a survivor, but the reactions of others can be jarring: "I wear that badge proudly, but it's really awkward when people act like you're brave, wonderful, or special for being a survivor. You do what you have to do. Period."

Other commenters expressed their annoyance. As blood cancer advocate Daniel explained, "'cancer survivor' is a bad term for something that’s really out of our control." The word survivor can also create unwanted pressure to be heroic when things are downright awful: "Survivor is such a positive word but if you are in the thick of the fight you don’t feel like a survivor."


Other people said that fighting language helps them take back power over their situation. "Relentless in the battle," a prostate cancer warrior stated, "no backing down." Several melanoma warriors identified this way as well: "just living, but fighting all the way."

Day by Day

Many folks across various cancers talked about taking it one day at a time and living in the moment, as opposed to a battle that’s won or lost. "I never use the S word" a blood cancer community member said, "diagnosed nine and a half years ago and given only 10 months to live. I just accept each day as a gift." Appreciation of however many days remain was another common theme, which brings us to...


Can "lucky" possibly be the right word to describe living with cancer? Indeed, several community members mentioned feeling grateful. Commenters described themselves as "blessed," "lucky!" and "much more appreciative, closer to my beliefs, realization of shelf live!" Knowing that others have worse diagnoses or outcomes - or simply knowing how short life can be - leads some folks to a newfound appreciation for...


Finally, there’s just living. In the short and sweet words of one advocate, "living with, not dying of." However you choose to identify yourself today, we acknowledge how unpredictable, fragile, and beautiful life can be, and how grateful we are to have you in it.

How do you choose to identify yourself in coping with cancer? Share in the comments...

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