I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the words used to describe cancer, undergoing treatment, and its aftermath. While I have probably used all of these at one point or another, I find them all problematic in various ways. Here are a few thoughts on a few that hit me the wrong way or at least in a way that leaves me feeling ambivalent:
Survivor: I have never gotten used to this term. Even after having completed two surgeries, four rounds of chemo, seven weeks of radiation, and two months and counting of drug therapy, I don’t actually feel as if I’ve survived anything. I just did what I had to do and will continue to do it. I haven’t received the “all clear” yet, and I still face the risk of recurrence or metastasis. Am I in some way a better person because I “survived” these things than someone whose cancer was more aggressive and who died? I don’t think so. I get that it’s helpful to have a term that describes those who go through this, but I wish this wasn’t it.
Gift: Fuck no. Cancer is the furthest thing from a gift. I would give this “gift” back right now if I could, but no such luck. Have I learned things from my experience with cancer? Absolutely. Would I have learned them otherwise? Maybe, but probably not quite so dramatically. Am I grateful that I learned to slow down, pay attention to my body, and appreciate small things? Sure. Have I felt more loved by my husband and children than ever before? Yes. Would I have preferred to have learned these things some other way? You betcha.
Battle: I’ll put in this category all other “war” words and my comfort with them is minimal at best. Did it feel like war when I was getting through surgeries and treatment? Of course. But wars are won and lost and it seems to me that this particular war is only lost, never won, and at best, lived with. As with survivor, I’m not fond of words that put some sort of punitive connotation on those who don’t make it. It could have just as easily been me, through no fault of my own, and still could be.
Done. This one comes up as “so, you’re finally done” — yeah, not so much. Never done. Maybe paused, or in limbo, but never done. It implies that cancer has a beginning and an end that doesn’t involve death. Think again. Sometimes I think this is used as a way to shut me up, so that I stop talking about my experience, because people are tired of hearing about cancer, or being reminded that they are fortunate not to have it, or I don’t know what. But while I’m more and more able to talk about things that don’t involve cancer, it has been my life for the last year, so give me a break.
A few random thoughts on a sunny day, taking a break from packing for my first real vacation since treatment ended. I have some energy and life is good today.