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“Surviving” Cancer - What It Means To You

There has been a lot of talk lately about what surviving cancer actually means, and I think it’s a valid question that doesn’t get talked about much. There is life after diagnosis and even if we don’t often have time to think about it, it still is something we have to live with, no matter what it looks like.

Thinking about the future

I get it, though. It’s fairly easy to see why we don’t think much about the future when we get our blood cancer diagnosis. I mean, after all, when you are first diagnosed and going through chemo all you are really focused on is surviving and making it through the day.

Cancer doesn’t really offer a lot of opportunity to sit and reflect on your long-term plans, other than how am I going to not puke my guts out for the rest of the day. In fact, if there is anything that would be considered the opposite of things that makes you think about the future, I think cancer would be at the top of the list.

No one wants to think about what is to come when you are not sure if you are going to make it through the month. Heck, if anything, you actively try not to think about anything beyond the new few hours and distract yourself with enough Netflix to choke a horse. An electrical horse. That lives in the Internet… you get it.

What does surviving mean?

So what does surviving cancer actually mean? I think it depends on a lot of factors, including what kind of cancer you have, if you are terminal or not, and how you handle the anxiety and dread of living with cancer.

Above all, though, I think something all of us share is that when we do think about the future, and surviving, we mostly wonder what that new life is going to look like. Will it be less than or more than? Will it be equal but different? Will it change everything or cement all that was to be the same now and forever? These are valid questions that we all ask ourselves, even in the thick of it.

Living with chronic illness

For me, surviving was a little different than most. Because I had lived with thirty plus years of rheumatoid arthritis before I got lymphoma, I had experience dealing with chronic illness. Surviving the cancer, which, by the way, was probably caused by the years of RA inflammation (they think), for me meant that I’d go back to living with the normal issues of chronic illness that I had been for years before.

Never had I been so eager to get back to the aches, pains, and low grade fevers of rheumatoid arthritis, but that’s what I was yearning for during the thick of chemo, believe it or not. The cancer was so painful at times, pain like I had never experienced, that I was longing for the simple, familiar pain of my RA, absurd as it sounds. I know, I know - it sounds insane, but on those really bad nights, that’s what I wished for.

Surviving feels wrong

Whatever surviving cancer means to you, though, I think I am in the majority when I say that the term “cancer survivor,” doesn’t fill me with joy when I hear it. I can’t even put my finger on exactly what makes me dislike it but it just feels wrong. Wrong like when you accidentally eat a piece of tin foil with your breakfast sandwich, or wrong like when you put the wrong contact lens in the wrong eye, or wrong like putting the batteries in your remote backwards - you just know something is wrong.

It’s like that saying that’s popular down south, “Well, bless your heart!” It sounds like a kind, thoughtful greeting, but what it really means is something along the lines of, “Well, aren’t you ridiculously silly!” That’s how “cancer survivor” feels to me and I know I’m not alone, and I certainly don’t want to be branded with it for the rest of my life.

No matter what surviving cancer means to you, it is important to think about what comes after diagnosis at least once in a while. I know it can be painful, and in some cases depressing, but it can also be liberating. No matter what the outcome for you may be, giving it form and some sort of shape can take away some of the dread and a bit of its power to frighten. So, if you find yourself worth some downtime, and who doesn’t have down time when cancer hits, maybe try giving it a shot and see what surviving cancer means to you. Talk soon.

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

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