There is a whole lingo surrounding the world of cancer. Words and phrases that go hand in hand with being diagnosed with cancer; you become a 'fighter' fighting a 'battle' as you navigate your cancer 'journey'. And then you get a label as a cancer patient, a cancer sufferer or a cancer survivor.
And really, all I ever wanted to be was me.
I have always really struggled to relate to all the cancer metaphors and those who know me best, understand that unless I left the country on a well deserved holiday, I do not want to talk about my 'journey'. But when I started the Whole Lotta Life Foundation, I found I needed to attach labels to certain stages of treatment and survivorship.
One of the words I felt most strongly about was how we would define the word 'Survivor'.
Just over a week ago I attended 'CancerCon' in Denver, Colorado; a conference put on by American non-profit Stupid Cancer. They hosted 650 young adults diagnosed with cancer, along with caregivers, medical professionals and advocates.
In one of the breakout sessions I attended there was a panel of people at the front answering questions. And amongst those in the panel, there sat three young adults who had all had cancer and who had recently finished their treatment (within the last 2-3 years). The last question they were all asked was, "What do you think of the word Survivor, and do you call yourself a Survivor?"
There was an uncomfortable rustling in their chairs.
And then one by one, they each described how the word made them uncomfortable and how they did not use the word 'survivor' to describe themselves. They also described being unable to figure out when would be the appropriate time to start using the term.
When the session was over I looked up to see one of the three was sitting on his own not engaged in conversation like the others so I made a move to go up and introduce myself and thank him for his honest input into today's session.
We chatted for a bit and then I decided to share the definition we have come up with at the Whole Lotta Life Foundation for the term of 'Survivor'.
At the Whole Lotta Life Foundation we define our 'Cancer Survivor' as anyone that has been diagnosed and finds themselves living with cancer. That's it. Pretty simple, it's all of us really. Some of us will never go into remission, or get the all allusive 'cure', but that doesn't stop us from living, or in fact surviving, cancer.
He smiled up at me, "I've never looked at it that way before." I watched as his shoulders released a little. "I like that," he said.
We had to put box around it for the purposes of the charity. But you get to choose to define it your own way.
Truth is, each of us is a completely unique being, and each of us are going to have a completely unique cancer experience. And the way that you 'do' your cancer or define your 'survivorship' is up to you. Whatever you choose is neither wrong or right, it just is. You CAN'T do this wrong. So own the parts that fit for you from the people that have gone before and discard the pieces that don't work.
And should you care to take a 'journey' with me, lets travel somewhere tropical and warm...not to the chemo lounge.