On Being a Survivor

There was a time that I did not want to think of myself as a "cancer survivor."


I was afraid it would "jinx" my recovery.
I was afraid I was being presumptuous.
I was afraid it would be temporary.
I did not like being singled out.

With each year that passed, I was able to exhale just a little bit more than the year before, until finally - there, I said it - I was a survivor. I don't know exactly when that moment was, but I suspect it was about the time I just got tired of holding my breath and not engaging in life.

What does it mean to be a survivor? I'm still not sure. Does it mean the cancer will never return? No one can give me a guarantee of that. But then again, where are the guarantees in life?

Does it mean that I am courageous and strong? To some, I am, since they "can't imagine" how they'd be if they had to face down a cancer diagnosis. But to me, I'm not all that courageous and strong. I just did what I had to do to get through surgery, chemo and all the other psychological and physical ramifications of the disease. You'd do it to, I want to say, if you had to. What's your other choice, after all?

Does it mean that I can face anything, now that I've faced cancer? I doubt it. With each new challenge comes a different set of problems, roadblocks, emotions and issues. But maybe it's like riding a bike. Once you learn how, the next time you get on it's easier. You're steadier and speedier, more capable and confident.

I used to think being a cancer survivor deserved to be in a category all its own. I'm not so sure I feel the same way anymore.

After all, we are all survivors - of something. A childhood friend of mine survived growing up in an alcoholic family. Others survived sexual abuse, emotional abuse, teasing, a broken heart, the death of a child or a spouse, an automobile accident, a stroke of other life-threatening or disabling illness, food poisoning, a mental breakdown, unemployment...even Bernie Madoff.

Every day, people we read about (or perhaps know) survive earthquakes, war, fire, floods, famine, gunshots. Still others live to talk about their near-death experiences, being trapped in a mine, being left for dead, being raped, mugged, attacked.

We are all special.

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