Personally, I don't use the word. To me, a survivor is one who, ahem, survives a traumatic event. This means that the event is a part of their history and they move on with their lives in the best manner possible. Many survivors have to deal with post traumatic stress disorder as they try to adjust their lives after the event, but many don't.
Cancer will never be a part of my history. It will always be a part of my present. Because of this, I don't call myself a survivor. I call myself a patient, or someone living with terminal cancer. It's my reality.
However, I'm learning to relax and to not worry so much about what others call themselves. If someone else living with cancer chooses to call herself or himself a survivor, then go for it. Until this morning, I didn't really understand why someone living with terminal cancer would ever use such a word, though. Don't they know it's going to kill them?
This morning I read a blog post in which the writer, in describing her objections to the word, survivor, brought up the illustration of a plane accident. That if a passenger in a plane crash lived for two days after the crash, the passenger wouldn't be called a survivor. The passenger would be a fatality, even though the death didn't happen immediately upon impact. Statistics would show that death as a direct result of the crash.
Reading that set off the hamster wheels in my head. What if the passenger lived three years past the accident? That person would most definitely be counted as surviving the plane crash, even though the injuries received ultimately resulted in death. No one would go back and revise the statistics for that crash to reflect an additional loss of life. Same goes if the passenger lived for five years, ten years or even twenty years.
The passenger would be called a survivor for however long they lived after the accident.
James Brady, President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, lived 33 years following a gunshot wound received in an assassination attempt on Reagan's life. His death in 2014 was ruled a homicide ... a direct result of the injuries received more than three decades earlier. Throughout those 33 years of life, Brady was consistently and constantly called a survivor of the shooting.
Perhaps it's all in knowledge. Perhaps James Brady never knew his death would be a result of his injuries. Perhaps he thought he'd die of old age or another illness.
The plane crash survivor with severe injuries always holds out hope that recovery will ultimately be a part of the story. They live each day with the realization that they survived something that may have killed everyone else on board. They don't necessarily know they are going to die as a result of the injuries.
The terminal cancer KNOWS they are going to die as a result of the disease invasion.
It's hard for me to call myself a survivor knowing that my death is most likely in my near future rather that in my distant future. I always have hope that the next treatment will be the one to repress the cancer for an extended amount of time, but the odds are stacked against me. Even if my death is in the distance, the reality is still there ... I'm most likely going to die sooner than most people of my current age.
But I can see why some people would want to call me a survivor. It's a comforting word that inspires hope. It doesn't change my reality, but it helps others feel more comfortable with my reality.
I have to live with the reality of my death every single day. I am surrounded by people who know me and who love me, but the vast majority of them don't think of me in terms of having terminal cancer. Because I'm doing reasonably well now, they blithely make plans for my future with the same casual confidence that they make plans for their own futures. They think nothing of my participating in events that are months away because they simply don't understand that if I'm not dead at that time, I could be severely limited in what I can do.
There is another term that is going around ... a "lifer." When someone is convicted of a crime and sentenced to life in prison, then that prisoner is known as a lifer. Perhaps that's me ... someone who has been sentenced to cancer (through no fault of my own!) for the rest of my life, with slight chances of parole (successful treatments). I'll have to think about that one.
Quite frankly, when I think of my life in terms of the time line of eternity, it's just a little, teeny, tiny dot on the spectrum. It really doesn't matter if I live 55 years or if I live 155 years. What matters is if I actually LIVE.
And that's my goal. I have cancer that will kill me (unless that proverbial bus comes first!) but I have today in which to live ... and love ... and live ... and laugh ... and live ... and cry ... and live ....