Let’s Talk About Labels

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 everyone’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.

Let’s Talk About Bucket Lists

Bucket lists.

They’ve always made me itch. From time to time I’ll hear friends talk about making their list or they will post pictures with a lead in of “Well, I checked this (whatever ‘this’ is) off my bucket list.” I immediately think about what happens when they finish the list or worse; they don’t get to finish because their health suddenly takes “that turn” no one wants to happen. Because of that, I’ve associated bucket lists with bad karma and never really put one together. I’m already living on borrowed time, why would I wag my finger in the face of fate just begging to get a clap back?? Ask anyone, I can be a pain in the ass with the whole – “no one’s going to tell me what to do, if I want to do it, it’s happening” but this is a whole other animal and I don’t think I’m ready to poke that chupacabra. Know what I mean?

All that being said. I still don’t have a formal list. Not even a Post-It note. However….

There has always been one thing, just one, that I’ve wanted to do. Even before cancer became my dark passenger. I had even kind of resigned myself to the fact that it wasn’t going to happen.

Then . (holy shit) . It . Happened.

What I consider a once in a lifetime opportunity landed in my lap to go home. Well, not where I grew up, but close enough. San Francisco, California. This was huge. I haven’t been home in 25 yrs. I truly believed I was going to die from this hideous disease without ever going back. The ironic thing is the way it worked out, I missed my 30th High School class reunion by four days but that was OK. Totally, absolutely, 100% fine.

This past Wednesday, two days ago Wednesday, I got on a plane and flew west. It was surreal. It really didn’t hit me until the plane touched down. As the plane taxied in and as I looked out the window, the familiar mountains in the horizon was like a hug to my senses. I cried. I cried the same way I am now typing this on the plane back (looking absolutely ridiculous to anyone that may catch a glimpse of me. I need a damn Xanax)

Oh those mountains

San Francisco Neighborhoods are Awesome

I only told one person I was coming home. There was only one person that was important enough to occupy the precious time I had. I only wish it could have been two. Both classmates. One from elementary/junior high and the other from high school. Unfortunately, Laurie, my dear friend from elementary school tragically died in 2011. That will always be my biggest regret, not coming back in time to see her.

I was able to give the biggest hug to Melanie. She’s no slouch giving hugs back! We had the best time catching up and hanging out. It was like I’d never left. Kind of. We ended up at at a casual neighborhood pub that made the evening even more memorable. We had no idea we walked in on trivia night. We opted out which lent to even better comedy. (We were compared to the old men on the muppet show but in a good way – I swear).

Our “30th Reunion”

It was the most amazing trip. I cannot emphasize this enough. This was everything.

I still don’t have a bucket list. After this week, I honestly don’t need one because I completed it without ever needing to make one.

To those that made this all possible (the whole thing), I could spend the rest of my days thanking you and it truly wouldn’t be enough.

Seriously, Thank you.