Dana Jennings blogged
this last month in the NYT."And what are we once treatment ends? Are we survivors? I don’t feel much like a survivor in the traditional (or even reality TV) sense. I didn’t crawl from a burning building or come home whole from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
I’m just trying to lead a positive postcancer life, grateful that my surging Stage 3 cancer has been turned aside, pleased that I can realistically think about the future. I’m trying to complete the metamorphosis from brittle husk to being just me again."
While I don't agree with everything Jennings wrote in that piece, I do empathize with his larger point.
I feel odd donning the purple shirt (different colors in different cities, I imagine) and marching in the front of the Relay for Life (the big ACS fundraiser) parade around the field. If you've never seen the shirts, they have "SURVIVOR" in huge letters across the back. I don't begrudge the other purple shirted folks their moment, but I've decided it's not for me.
It is true, as Jennings writes, that words simply fail us when it comes to cancer, and we fall back on cliches. Speaking for myself--only--I am not engaged in a battle. I'm not, and have not been host to some alien invader called cancer. It was my own prostate that betrayed me--betrayed the rest of "us" that makes up what I call "me". I can't help but feel, when I put on the purple shirt and walk around the field, to the applause and tears, that somehow I am taking credit for something I shouldn't, and elevating myself. Am I better than the non-survivors? Of course not. So I won't be doing that any more.
I'm not the only one. Beth Brophy, who had breast cancer, writing in the Washington Post, 5/30/2000, in an article titled "That's Just Me; Don't Call Me a Survivor; I'm Not Going to Let a Disease Define Who I Am" said, in part: "The most heart-wrenching sight at the race every year is the hundreds of children and teenagers whose lives have been affected by the disease. Wearing signs pinned to the backs of their shirts or carrying placards with photos, they memorialize their lost or ailing mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters. If any group wants to call themselves survivors, perhaps it should be those young people."
All that said, I certainly don't mind when others use the word "survivor" to describe themselves or others; nor can I argue that what someone else experienced wasn't akin to battle. This is me speaking for me here.