Sur•vi•vor: a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.
Talk about a loaded word! When you think of the word “survivor”, what is the 1st thing that comes to mind? Because of the advocacy work I have done, to me it means a person who has battled cancer. The next step my mind takes, is to a person who has battled breast cancer. But obviously, it means different things to different people, and is not limiting, but instead, all encompassing.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, we were a few weeks away from October; Breast Cancer awareness month. Even though I was telling people I had breast cancer, I was not referring to myself as a “Survivor”. It just didn’t feel right. Then the Race for the Cure was upon us. I was to start treatment the next day. On the eve of the Race, as we did our last Race walk-through as a Board, I asked if I could wear a Survivor shirt. The response was a resounding YES! I was told I should “absolutely” wear a Survivor shirt! I was already a Survivor, they said. It still felt weird. The day of the Race, I proudly wore my shirt. But I watched from the edge of the crowd when the 1, 5, 10, and 20+ year Survivors paraded by. I asked myself “Do I really deserve to wear a Survivor shirt?”
In the Cancer Lane, you can find a million different answers to the question “When does a person become a Survivor”. Some say it’s ridiculous to say Survivor because there is in fact, no cure. Others say it’s at diagnosis, or when the tumor is removed. Public opinion leans towards people who have completed treatment, while advocates and doctors say at time of diagnosis. I know a couple women who refuse to use the word “Survivor”, and actively try to distance themselves from being called a “Survivor”. They have come up with all kinds of other words to describe themselves and their experience. (Over time, I have learned that they don’t have enough distance from their experience, and are in fact still “mad” with the fact that cancer interrupted their lives. This denial of a universal term is their way of coping) I have also read numerous blogs about when people feel they became survivors. There is never one answer. In fact, the only consistent thing is that a person becomes a Survivor when they choose to say they have “survived”.
Leaving the Vineyard, it all became clear to me.
I’ve been told many times how strong I have been this past year, how much I have been forced to endure, etc. This is true. When I recount my Life in the Cancer Lane to people, I am on occasion, shocked at the totality of it all. All week, Michele and I kept saying, “We made it!” Yes, we did! We made it through the storm, motivated by rejuvenation on the Vineyard! My last day on the Vineyard was capped by the news that Coping Magazine accepted my National Survivor’s Day picture entry! Joy!
So, as I boarded the ferry, it all hit me. Big B knew. He saw it brewing on my face. He hugged me and gave me my time. I sat on the trunk of my car, looked out at the fog rolling in over the ocean, and cried. I took the time to actually feel all that I had been through. I sat. I thought about the surgeries, many rounds of chemo, radiation, and all the missed activities. I thought about Big and Lil B, my family, and Michele, and all we had endured. I let myself feel the weight of this journey. So, I sat. I cried for 30 minutes. Despite the new headaches, I made it to the Vineyard! Most important, I had journeyed 10 months in the Cancer Lane.
I could not have scripted those 30 minutes of reflection had I tried. At one point, the fog was so thick; I couldn’t see the island behind me or the mainland in front of me. It was as if that moment was created just for me to…sit. So I allowed myself to think about my journey, to be in that space, and…survive.
It was only at that point that I opened my mind, heart and soul to the fact that I was indeed a Survivor!
Anything that comes at us now, will be…a new journey!