What is a Survivor?

I have several t-shirts from my years of doing the Big Climb in Seattle. (That’s an annual event where over 6,000 people climb the stairs of the tallest building in Washington State to raise millions for leukemia research.) Emblazoned across the back of every shirt, stretching from shoulder to shoulder, is the word “Survivor.”

One day a woman noticed my shirt and asked me what it meant. I told her it had a double meaning. I survived the arduous climb up the Columbia Center building and I also survived cancer.

But was that right? Was I really a cancer survivor? I hadn’t beaten the disease. My leukemia wasn’t even in remission. Did I have the right to wear such a shirt?

When do I become a survivor?

Leuk is still with me. Though I’m doing quite well for now I know he’s percolating along inside and may someday boil over. So am I really a survivor?

And what of those who know they aren’t going to beat it – those whose life is nearing its end? Can they wear the shirt?

I guess it really comes down to what we think it means to survive. The Oxford dictionary defines a survivor as “a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.” But that isn’t its only definition. The same dictionary also describes a survivor as “a person who copes well with difficulties in their life.”

I believe the latter definition describes all of us. No matter what stage we are at, as long as we’re alive and fighting our disease, we are survivors.

Our legacy will survive forever

Think of it this way: imagine you are in a lifeboat, stranded in the open sea. Though you don’t know whether you will make it to land or if you will perish, each day you wake up breathing means you have survived another night. You are a survivor because you haven’t given up.

It’s no different in our fight with leukemia. Each day is a triumph. We have survived.

Come to think of it, I’d even take the definition further. If the day comes that we lose the fight and pass on, we will still survive in the hearts of our loved ones.

In a sense, we’re never going to lose. We are survivors now because we are living. And when we’re gone we will still survive through our legacy. There really is no such thing as a leukemia victim.

So, as for me, I’ll wear that shirt. I'm a survivor and proud of it.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

More on this topic

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Blood-Cancer.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.

Community Poll

Do you worry about relapse?