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I'm a Cancer Veteran, Not a Survivor

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I never was comfortable with being called a cancer survivor. To me it gives too much power to cancer and not enough to the person. People survive earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, terrorist attacks, all powerful and overwhelming events and all events over which we have very little, if any control. The word survivor does not always denote action to me. It certainly is not as passive a term as victim but still leans toward being on the receiving end of things.

We don't tend to call people who are successful with other fatal diseases survivors. If you Google cancer survivor, you'll get around 12,000,000 hits. Heart attack and stroke survivors get a total of 416,000 hits. Alcoholism, which is also a 100 per cent fatal disease if not treated, gets about 1,000 hits when the word survivor is used.

Notice too that we say that someone who is cured from cancer is a survivor yet an individual who died from the disease lost a courageous battle. This puts all the power in cancer's hands. The winners were survivors, a term that can be active or passive and the losers were warriors who fought like hell and still lost because the disease had all the power. This is backwards. Kind of like saying we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway. We need to take power away from cancer by ensuring that everyone who encounters it is called a warrior and label those that came through this awful mess as victorious. The fact is that the more you participate in your own recovery by fighting cancer or any life threatening situation with everything you have, the greater your chances of winning

I like the term cancer veteran. A few hours after this term came to my mind, a reflexologist at a cancer support centre independently voiced his preference for the term veteran over survivor. Soldiers are trained as warriors and become veterans, not survivors. Regardless of the battles that they are in and the wounds received, they are all called veterans. They have been there, done that, got the medals and the ball cap. Veteran is a much more active and participatory term than survivor.

So please don't call me a survivor. I now have the medals for recovering from two fatal diseases, alcoholism and cancer and am earning a third medal for currently going through a second cancer battle. I didn't just survive these things, it was not a passive experience at all. I fought like hell, participated in my own recoveries, won two of the battles and am winning the third. Please call me a veteran.

For more posts, also see www.cancerslessons.com

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