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Diseases & Conditions

On Being a Survivor

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 11/16/2009
Last Updated: 11/23/2009

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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.


I agree we all have our burdens to bear, but I do think getting through cancer is something that deserves an extra little "way to go". So congrats on that.

I believe anyone who has survived something becomes a stronger person.

I survived a bitter divorce. Know that song by Gloria Gaynor, I Will Survive? Don't know how many times I sang that to myself before, after and during the divorce process ....

You're right--we do grow stronger by surviving challenges. And wouldn't life be dull if there were never any bumps--or brick walls--in the way. I agree with Marthaandme, I think your story deserves a little extra praise.

I spoke with a horse trainer / animal communicate recently who told me that horses have told her they do NOT like when people talk about their illnesses a lot or constantly retell their story of abandonment or rescue.

Her point ... we don't introduce our human friends by their state of "victimhood" -- be it a bad marriage or child abuse or illness.

What we experience does change us, but I like to think it doesn't entirely define us either.

But, yeah ... I'd say surviving cancer is a big one.

Thanks, everyone. I appreciate the sentiments and thoughts. We all do grow and learn from all experiences, whether good or bad, I guess.

It can be empowering to think of yourself as a survivor. Cancer is so hard. A good friend is trying to beat it right now. She's only 29 and has 5 kids. God, I hope she can be in the survivor category sometime soon.

As the saying goes...the only way out is through. We all go through our different things and hopefully grown in the process.

Great post! I'm sure that surviving cancer was a lot more challenging physically and emotionally than surviving the loss of a parent. But I will say that after watching my mother care for my father as he got sicker and sicker, my personal pet peeve is the word "caretaker." I MUCH prefer people use the term "caregiver." Caretaker reminds me too much of undertaker, and caregiver reflects the amount of love and hard work that caregivers give.

Susan, Funny you wrote that. While writing my prior post, I repeatedly wrote the word "caretaker." Every time I re-read it, it sounded so wrong (and gloomy, like "undertaker!") I ended up changing the word to "caregiver."

Meredith, I really like that saying. It's so true.

Such an interesting and empowering way of thinking about this... that we are all survivors of life. After all, if we weren't survivors, we wouldn't still be kicking around, now, would we?

This topic is very close to my heart, as I write about cancer day in and day out for Caring.com, and have many cancer patients and -- yes -- survivors among my readers. I also lost my dad to cancer six years ago, and have been helping a dear close friend through breast cancer treatment for the past year. Your post is very moving, and I know from my experiences with "cancer world" that a cancer diagnosis changes everything, and you never really go back to who you were before you heard that word. Brave of you to tackle this.

Sheryl -- This is excellent and so heartfelt. May you have many more decades of survivorship.


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