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.