It seems as though we are obsessed with slapping a label on things associated with illnesses. These labels, regardless of stage, can be isolating to some extent, even off-putting. Other people closely identify with them.
I will be the first person to tell you that cancer is difficult. One size does not fit all, and living through it can fundamentally change a person. While it makes perfect sense to want to celebrate being done with it all and putting it in the review mirror, is it essential to identify with a specific label that constantly reminds you of that experience? And what happens if cancer returns? Does “survivor” still resonate?
So, when did this start, and why has it changed over the years to incorporate a whole month and a specific day dedicated to survivors & survivorship?
To Be Or Not To Be
The term “cancer survivor” was introduced by a US physician Fitzhugh Mullan which appeared in New England Journal of Medicine in 1985. He suggested that survivors included people from diagnosis to the end of life. Distinguishing them from others with a worse prognosis.
Margaret I Fitch, RN, Ph.D, Editor in Chief, Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal wrote an article entitled “Take Care When you use the word survivor in 2019. Fitch acknowledges that there are several ways in which to define the word survivor and that none are universally accepted.
“The word itself likely grew out of the declaration of ‘the war on cancer’, and is connected with a notion of ‘winning a battle’Margaret Fitch, RN, PhD
Additionally, a small study was conducted in the UK focused on 20 young women (between 18 & 44 yrs of age) that were 1 – 10 yrs post diagnosis. The study acknowledges 23 previous studies that explored how individuals who have had cancer view the word survivor.
The conclusion of this particular study was not unlike the others in that
“…not all individuals living beyond cancer identify as survivors and that this language may indeed be alienating and harmful for the well‐being of many”
Let’s Try Something New
It’s clear the term survivor does not resonate with everyone who has had a lived experience with cancer. Even those who are no evidence of disease years after completing successful treatment. So, why is it still used? Why can’t we adopt something new that doesn’t alienate anyone while being truthful to everyoneâ€™s experiences?
I challenge everyone to stop using survivor and instead say: “lived with” or “living with” cancer. Cancer isn’t who we were or what we are. It’s something that, for whatever reason, happened. W are all doing the best we can to live through or with it.
How do you feel about the term survivor? Let me know in the comments.