This month, whether you celebrate it or not, is National Cancer Survivor Month. (YAY) us! Some cancer patients find this month as a time to celebrate; being alive and living with cancer. While others find this “celebration” to be just more salt in an already gaping wound. Neither perspective is good or bad, right or wrong and I want to take this time to hopefully help people from both schools of thought.
To those who choose to see their cancer as just another walk through one of life’s doors, I see you.
To those who choose to curse cancer and its daily struggles, I hear you.
To those we have lost to cancer, I miss you.
To those newly diagnosed, you’ve got this.
To those who are metastatic, I understand you.
According to the National Cancer Institute, an individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis, through the balance of his or her life. Currently in the United States there are 16.9 million people living with and beyond their cancer diagnosis. Data and research are some of the greatest tools in my world that pull us closer and closer to a cure. I am grateful for every new treatment. But, even with the brightest researchers, scientists, doctors and other medical professionals, there are still errors in our data and outdated methods for tracking patients. Could this be a reason for some of the hesitation cancer patients may feel? As mentioned above not all survivors ‘feel’ like survivors. Stage IV, metastatic cancer has no end, no reversal, so is there really a way to truly survive?
Some think yes and see this terminology as a badge of honor. Survivors are tough, are fighters and are all around us. They are seeking comfort in their faith, family and friends. They see their cancer diagnosis as ‘and me’, not ‘why me’. They skydive and do things they may not have done without their cancer diagnosis. They live, they survive.
Some think no and see this terminology as an inclusive group they are not a part of. They hate the word fighter because it’s a fight they can’t win. Metastatic cancer patients never experience a last treatment, or a last appointment. They continually wonder - how long? Metastatic doesn’t have an answer or a joyful end. Remission, cured, we don’t get that. We live life from scan to scan, treatment to treatment, option to option. When we run out of options (tools in the tool box –what my family calls it). We turn to clinical trials and eventually, always too soon, we die. We find ways to find joy in each day, we practice self-care, we find our way. This is our truth. But knowing all this you may think, well how can anyone help?
To start with, remember words matter. Be kind. Ask questions. Listen. Do not assume anything. Be aware that each person is dealing with this diagnosis in their own way, in their own time and with their own level of openness.