The idea of cancer survivorship seems like it should be a simple idea. You have been diagnosed with cancer. You are still living; therefore, you are a survivor. That about sums it up in laymen's terms. Now, let's break that down from the eyes of a survivor. It' just not so black and white.
That initial definition of survivorship is how I understood what cancer survivorship was long before I actually became a cancer survivor.
After receiving the diagnosis of breast cancer 9 years ago, the first thing I did was cry. Then I got mad. Then I went back to crying. After all the initial emotions and reactions, I had to start breaking down treatment options, scheduling appointments, surgeries, and of course, the telling of friends and family. I hated all of it. I was a planner and always planned everything out. Cancer was not in my detailed life schedule, so it threw off my whole life plan. Then, of course, I had no plan on how to deal with a diagnosis because I never thought it would happen in the first place. One of the constant questions people asked me was did I consider myself a survivor? Well, that was also not a question I thought about, so I had no response because I had no clue.
I had no idea what the protocol was on the label of a cancer survivor. I thought it was odd that was what people asked me after they heard I had cancer. I guess it is better than them asking if I thought I was going to die, so I accepted their questioning. My first reaction was always "NO. I am not a survivor. I haven't survived anything yet." That reaction went over, well, not at all. People would just look at me perplexed. Personally, I don't understand why this is such a big question. I was dealing with cancer and I could think of about 650 other things that seemed way more urgent than deciding 2 days after my diagnosis if I was a survivor or not. I decided my answer would be if I lived one year after my diagnosis, I would then call myself a survivor.
Looking at myself pre-diagnosis, I can kind of relate to people's questions on survivorship. Survivor is such a strong word. It means you went through something terrible and came out the other side still standing. That's how I used to see it. Having had cancer, I started to see it in a new light. However, that took some time and a lot of sales pitches to myself to sell the idea that I was a survivor from day one. I had to remind myself with each day after that diagnosis I was surviving cancer. It was just one day at a time, but I was surviving.
Then after a year went by and I thought of all I had gone through, I felt stronger on the idea of cancer survivorship. I was still hesitant on saying I was a survivor because I'd only lived a year after diagnosis at that point. I thought I would truly feel like a survivor when I hit 5 years after diagnosis. It was like living a survivorship timeline in which with every tick of the line I passed, it meant I survived another year. Then I thought I would just close the book on cancer and move on.
I think the truth of it is, there is no true timeline of cancer survivorship. I am 9 years out from diagnosis and I still feel like every day I am just surviving one day at a time. I still have fears, anxiety, pain, sadness, and anger towards cancer. I hope every day it doesn't come back. I hope every ache or pain is nothing more than an ache or pain. So, as of today, I am still surviving. That's how I have sold myself on the idea of survivorship. It's a constant. It's always there in whatever form or idea you want it to be. If you feel like you are a survivor the minute you are diagnosed, then you are. If you are still going through treatment and don't consider yourself a survivor? Hey, that's cool and don't let anyone tell you otherwise (and there will be plenty of people who give you their thoughts on that one.) If you never feel like a survivor, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that either. Bottom line is, you just need to sell yourself the idea of survivorship in whatever way or form it means to you.