Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Up On My Soapbox

I was scrounging around for a blog topic today, when VOILA! one was provided for me by a random series of morning events that ended up with me watching 1 1/2 minutes of some early morning news-type show. The commentator began the bit by describing a woman who carries a gene that makes her more likely to get breast cancer than the normal woman. The show then switched to interviewing the woman herself who said the following "I haven't had breast cancer yet. That makes me a cancer survivor."

No, it doesn't.

As a woman who's both battled cancer and who's been told she's three times more likely to develop breast cancer than the average woman, I have to say something to this. I don't intend to be nitpicky here. I understand the weight of carrying around a doctor's prediction that of all the people standing in a field of land mines, you're more likely to get your head blown off. That's a heavy weight to carry and it means proactively preventing and being smart about how you safeguard (and check up on) your health.

But it doesn't make you a cancer survivor. Not until you've heard those three awful, life-changing words "You have cancer," not until you've looked in the mirror and tried to wrap your head around the fact that your body has turned against you, not until you gaze at your children and worry you won't be here for Christmas, not until you've had surgery, and then another, and some chemo, and then some more, not until you've lost weight, lost hair, lost perspective on anything that doesn't directly help you fight the monster invading your body can you possibly say you're a cancer survivor.


  1. You're not being nitpicky. With what you've faced--and, like an iceberg, we can only see the top 10% of it--you have every right to be up on your soapbox (while I stand below you and applaud.)

    And love seeing you past the halfway point on the fundraising--hooray!

  2. Agreed, CJ. Not nitpicky at all. You can't be a survivor of something you've never experienced. And as a survivor myself (though bone, not breast) it cheapens the year of hell I went through (chemo, hair loss, emaciation, kidney damage) for someone else to claim she's been there, done that.

  3. I didn't realize we shared this history as well as sharing a marvelous agent. It's true - there's a significant distinction to having heard the words. And oh how I relate to looking in the mirror, trying to realize "your body's turned against you." What a strange and horrible thing to face. I don't want to take away from any journey of faith or self-discovery that woman has had, but you're right that surviving cancer really isn't the name for it. I sort of want to shake her and say, you don't want to call it that! Rejoice in the fact that you don't have to!

  4. Next time you get on your soapbox like this let me know so I can patrol the crowd with a nightstick. One way or another we'll get the point across. *HUGS* I love you.

  5. Thank you for fighting so hard and for stepping up on your soap box. You've walked a path that made you a new person - you have the right to give voice to your experience.

    Glad to see the thermometer moving up, btw. :)

  6. Preach it, sister.

    I'm never a fan of re-defining words, and I think in this case, knowing both survivors and those who didn't make it, I would have started shouting at the screen instead of being able to make a reasoned blog post.

  7. WHOA! I 100% agree! That statement is just... wrong. There is a big, big difference between "being more likely to" and actually being diagnosed to cancer.

  8. Saying you're a cancer survivor when you've never had it is like saying you survived the Oklahoma City bombing when you were in Omaha at the time. You were in the vicinity--somewhere in the continental U.S.--and you may have been scared and sickened by what happened, but you weren't *there*.

    As the daughter of someone who fought cancer and did not survive it, I'm glad to hear stories of those who fought and won.

  9. I agree with you. I have a family history of breast cancer (surrounded by it) but have never considered that I survived cancer. Because like you said, I've never gotten it.


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