Survivorship Revisited

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By Cancer Hope Network volunteer, Lynne D. Feldman

 

My doctor had just reviewed my latest mammogram results and found my remaining breast was healthy, and the opposite side showed no sign of metastasis. It had been 3 1/2 years since we first met and he became my breast cancer surgeon. His soft demeanor had been so comforting to me, and his words today were uttered in the same gracious tone.

“You will not be seeing me again, Lynne, since you are now graduated to the survivor class of patients. You need not come back for one year, and you will be seen by nurse-practitioners who will monitor you. Of course, if anything bad happens, I will once again be there for you.”

I had a mixture of feelings. Survivor? Not being under his careful oversight again? I can wait for an entire year to be rechecked? Good news, certainly, but news of graduating into the survivor class did not make me feel more comforted.

I knew that most breast cancer metastases occur between Year 3 and Year 5 after diagnosis. What he was telling me was that statistically I was out of danger of cancer occurring in the other breast. But I still had to be followed by my oncologist on a more frequent schedule until we could breathe a marginal sigh of relief in November, 2015.

In my soon-to-be-published book, INTEGRAL HEALING, I report how I struggled with that term “cancer survivor.” Ever since I heard the quip that no one is a cancer survivor until they die of something else, I’ve taken offense at the term. Overly optimistic, I thought. Not really helpful for a 68 year old woman where the odds are against me about recurrence. Don’t get me relaxed and happy unless you can swear I won’t confront cancer anywhere else, ever.

Yet the American Cancer Society offered me a different perspective on the word. Every day past your surgery is a day that you have survived cancer. The word “survive” means “to live beyond”, “to outlive.” Forget the three years, the five years, the ten years after diagnosis. Every day I am alive with hope and plans for that day and for tomorrow, I have survived cancer.

 “A person who copes well with difficulties in their life.” It is this vision that the ACS offers to me. I don’t need to wait three or five or twenty years to determine if I am a survivor of my cancer struggles. I need only cope well with the difficulties I had during them.

So here I sit, having finished writing and revising my book as of last month, and I am already arguing with it/myself as I see my construction of my own story change. My interpretation of my life/spiritual/medical journeys has frozen in time and space. As soon as I type a sentence after formulating a thought, I have flash-frozen my feelings about the subject, and am only reporting what my worldview was at that particular moment. It is true at that instant. But just as a river flows, and one cannot step again into the same stream, so another tick of an instant can change my perspective. I am several months past when I finished writing the book, and already my view of the term “cancer survivor” has changed.

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.
Henry David Thoreau

I no longer have the negative connotation of survivorship as dying of something else. I have argued with myself, researched, read, meditated upon this term, since it is so prominently associated with cancer and illness in general.

“A person who copes well with difficulties in their life.”

That is what I wish for all those challenged by health issues, and what I wish for myself.