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National Cancer Survivors Day: What is a Survivor?

Survivor. Warrior. Living with cancer. Living in spite of cancer. Everyone has a unique way of talking about their experience as someone who’s part of “the club you never wanted to join.” In honor of Cancer Survivors Day 2019, we’re discussing the word survivor.


Some folks fully embraced the term survivor. “I’m glad to see a lot of Survivor responses. That’s what we all are until we’re not,” one member said. Another described how she identifies as a survivor, but the reactions of others can be jarring: “I wear that badge proudly, but it’s really awkward when people act like you’re brave, wonderful, or special for being a survivor. You do what you have to do. Period.”

Other commenters expressed their annoyance. As blood cancer advocate Daniel explained, “‘cancer survivor’ is a bad term for something that’s really out of our control.” The word ‘survivor’ can also create unwanted pressure to be heroic when things are downright awful: “Survivor is such a positive word but if you are in the thick of the fight you don’t feel like a survivor.”


Other people said that fighting language helps them take back power over their situation. “Relentless in the battle,” a prostate cancer warrior stated, “no backing down.” Several melanoma warriors identified this way as well: “just living, but fighting all the way.”

Day by day

Many folks across various cancers talked about taking it one day at a time and living in the moment, as opposed to a battle that’s won or lost. “I never use the S word” a blood cancer community member said, “diagnosed nine and a half years ago and given only 10 months to live. I just accept each day as a gift.” Appreciation of however many days remain was another common theme, which brings us to…


Can “lucky” possibly be the right word to describe living with cancer? Indeed, several community members mentioned feeling grateful. Commenters described themselves as “blessed,” “lucky!” and “much more appreciative, closer to my beliefs, realization of shelf live!” Knowing that others have worse diagnoses or outcomes – or simply knowing how short life can be – leads some folks to a newfound appreciation for…


Finally, there’s just living. In the short and sweet words of one advocate, “living with, not dying of.” However you choose to identify yourself today, we acknowledge how unpredictable, fragile, and beautiful life can be, and how grateful we are to have you in it.

How do you choose to identify yourself in coping with cancer? Share in the comments…


  • Faye
    3 months ago

    I use the terminology “living” because it speaks the truth to me. This type of cancer has such a high rate of recurring, and has returned 4 times during the past seven and a half years. It is kind of like running an endurance race just staying on top of it. Plus enduring the side effects of treatments and the emotional roller coaster of always knowing that the other shoe can drop at any time. I am a constant work in progress though, and my faith keeps me going. Thank God I do not get as angry and depressed as l did in the early years. It is a relief to be able to simply get on with my life by living one day at a time.
    My closest friends and supporters who have been there for me 24/7 have helped me in every way possible, and through them l realized that peace of mind, heart and spirit are possible no matter what is going on with my body. I thank God for placing them in my path.
    Yes…Living…is the terminology for me.

  • Sarah Wallin moderator
    2 months ago

    Hi @faye, Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this topic, and how “living” was the term which spoke to you. Your analogies to running a race and riding a roller coaster are spot on. I’m so glad to hear your faith in God helps you get by, as well as your friends and supporters who are there whenever you need. You’re so lucky and blessed to have their support! We’re glad to have you as part of this community. Keep in touch with how you are. Take care and have a lovely weekend, Sarah ( Team Member)

  • Faye
    2 months ago

    Thank you. I hope that you do the same.

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