The Next Chapter

Today is National Cancer Survivors Day®. I paused to see it on my newsfeed because it’s the first one without my mom. I have a lot of thoughts, so this is how I choose to start the next chapter of this blog. This year will be filled with a lot of firsts, but this one is a stark reminder that my mom did not survive cancer. Or did she?

Survivor is defined as “a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.” Based on this definition, my mom did not survive. Is this National Cancer Survivors Day® fair to those with MBC? To those who have lost someone from cancer?

I believe those who went through something weeks or months of treatment, life-changing events, who hear the words “malignant” deserve to celebrate completion of a treatment. My mom was a big proponent about celebrating life, but having pink photo ops in our faces was difficult. Those that got through treatments for early stage disease got to ring a bell, wear a big pink feather boa, and take a photo. I recognize how awful treatments are and that there is reason to celebrate.

When my mom had stage III breast cancer, she smiled and celebrated at her last treatment. I wish we could go back and celebrate, but also be educated. When we said she was cancer-free we should have been saying she was NED (no evidence of disease). I wish then we knew that 30% of early stage breast cancers return as metastatic. That her BRCA gene mutation put her at a higher risk of recurrence. That we should celebrate but cautiously knowing that things can get much, much worse. I wish we could go back and start advocating for MBC research. I wish we knew that malignant does not necessarily mean deadly. Metastatic does.

Max and I both quoted Stuart Scott in our eulogies, “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.” My mom beat cancer to the ground. So maybe she did survive by how she lived, why she lived, and the manner in which she lived. But, I don’t like using the survivor terminology.

Neither did my mom. In an October 2014 blog post she wrote, “although we are surviving, we will ultimately not survive from our breast cancer diagnosis.”

I hate the “cancer battle” imagery. I hate “she lost her battle.” When we invoke “survivor” we invoke similar language to battle. I think my mom would say, celebrate life. Have something to look forward to. But, “survivor” should be removed from the dialogue. I don’t like the limbo it puts those affected by cancer into. Instead of saying Happy National Cancer Survivors Day®… I say, here’s to life and remembering. That is the sentiment I carry forward into this next chapter.

Mother’s Day 2018

11 thoughts on “The Next Chapter

  1. Truth. I’m living with stage IV metastatic breast cancer myself and I abhor the survivor terminology and the battle metaphor. Love and light to your family as you navigate life without your mom.

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  2. Thank you, Michaela, for continuing your Mom’s blog. I think of you all often, and especially your Mom when I see Wally’s pictures posted by the groomers. Susan taught so many of us to cherish each day with our loved ones and you continue to do that as well as to remind us to remember the lessons we’ve learned along the way from those who are no longer with us. Thank you. 💕

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  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. My mom died of MBC on April 7. She was originally treated for an early cancer and lived for 17 years until it recurred. So, according to considering her a survivor (today’s celebration), she was, until she wasn’t. She lived three more years being treated and though her doctor told her she wasn’t going to die from her cancer (he was clearly wrong), she did die from it. So, she didn’t survive but she survived in my mind because she lived her life to the fullest possible, she spread love and happiness to those around her and she never let her cancer define who she was. I think about her and celebrate her every day and always will and I won’t think of her as having lost a battle or not being a survivor in life.

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  4. Thanks for posting on her page. I truly miss her perspective on cancer, and well, on all things. Her ability to tell the details of a particular day or event was the best and it often made me feel like I was there too. I admired and respected her views and miss her upbeat Facebook posts that reached so many. I agree with you on the survivor, fight, warrior and battle words- it’s hard to know what to do with words at certain times. With you in thoughts on so many days~

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  5. Thank you for updating us. I am living with Stage 4 cancer and I totally agree with you. I have not survived it but I am learning to live in spite of it. Your mother’s blog has meant so much to me as do your comments. I hope my own daughter is able to cope as you are doing. Of course, I am hopeful that won’t be soon.

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  6. Michaela – Very well said. I’m glad to see you are continuing with your mom’s blog. I understand about first everything – I have been there.
    Know there are many family and friends that are there for you and your family. Lots of prayers and hugs!

    I have several friends who have been through cancer – one with breast cancer. They are sisters who celebrate after every appointment showing they are clear ( Is that the right way to put that). Family and friends pray they continue to be “cancer free”!

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  7. OMG, Michaela! You have your Mom’s gift of writing!! You, too, brought me tears (some happy but the scale, at the moment, is tipped towards sadness). Thank you for your words and their very important message. I could TRULY feel Susan as I was reading them … THANK YOU FOR THAT!! 😊 I think of you, Max and your Dad OFTEN! Warm hugs going your way.

    Love, Joanne

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