Recently, I participated in one of the American Cancer Society’s Relays for Life. My mom and I have been walking together in the event since before my cancer; last year we walked in it while I was continuing to battle cancer. This year, I walked as a survivor.
It’s only been recently that I have begun to refer to myself as a cancer survivor. Last year, after I had finished chemotherapy and before we found the new spot of cancer in a lymph node, I attended a series of workshops on the topic of cancer survivorship. I enjoyed meeting the other participants; I learned a lot about life after a cancer diagnosis; but I just couldn’t think of myself as a survivor.
Then, I thought pretty narrowly about what it means to survive. It seemed like victims who live after a plane crash can be called survivors because there is no longer any threat that the plane crash will take their lives. But as for cancer, I still feel threatened by it. Until I die of something else, I didn’t feel I could be called a cancer survivor.
But over time, something started to happen that changed my mind. I went on living despite my cancer. I didn’t live as if it didn’t happen; I just figured out how to live now that it has. It’s true that if I want to go on living then I am not free from the threat of cancer. (Just like a plane crash survivor is always at risk of another crash if she decides to go on flying.) But even though I am threatened by it, I don’t have to submit to it. For me, being a cancer survivor means living a better life because of cancer.
Every time I continue to be active though my surgery scars ache, every time I submit my arms to multiple needle sticks for blood draws and CT scan dye, every time I lay my head on the pillow and sleep while I am anxiously awaiting test results, every time I dig deep and try to encourage someone else with cancer, even though I’d rather avoid the topic altogether, every time I make plans for the future even though the future still feels uncertain, every time I write “cancer” on my list of thank you’s to Jesus, I am surviving cancer.
I am a survivor.