Don't Tell Me I'm Not a Cancer Survivor!


I will continue to say that I am a “survivor,” and that is the best title I could ever receive.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Jessica Bolz

When I was a little girl, my mother placed my sister and I in brownie camp to keep us socially busy. I was never very fond of it, except for the badges you could acquire if you showed you were accomplished in something and you wore those patches like decorated army officers on a sash. I started to make it my business to collect as many as I could, sewing, hiking, swimming, crafts…. What else could I find to win another patch? Maybe some psychologist would say that was an early display of a need to satisfy ego or aesthetically show others I was worthy, but all I know is it felt great. Years later I would be diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 10, in the middle of a very successful competitive swimming career where I was now collecting medals instead of badges.


It feels warm when we have a sense of accomplishment and even more so when someone acknowledges it. The first time I heard I was a “survivor” I was still an adolescent; naïve, in the process of learning emotions and reactions to things and now something more serious than anything else we face, the knowledge that we are only here for a limited time. This “survivor” title felt like the best brownie badge or medal in swimming I could have received because I had worked with everything. I had to get there, mentally, physically and emotionally. I would have that badge awarded to me 3 more times in my 39 years as a survivor and 4 more bouts of cancer. I realized as time went by, I wanted to utilize my survivorship to help others to feel empowered by example. “You can do whatever you want if you believe” was the mantra flowing in my mind and out of my mouth to my clients as I trained them. 


Every now and then I would get that “special” client. It’s the type of human who “knows it all”, is a “psychologist without the credentials”, a preacher and a teacher without any of. The pretense or self-reflection to realize what is coming from their own mouth is a complete contradiction to their own behavior. This particular woman would explain all her worldly adventures, brag about her strength and tenacity and love of herself and would pity me for not having boundaries and “allowing others to cross them”. I didn’t see myself that way, but as an empath and knowing my place as her trainer, I did a lot of biting my lip. Then recently, she said something that ignited an anger in me I had never felt before.


“My one wish for you Jessica is you would not define yourself as a cancer survivor”. It implies you are on the receiving end. You are thriver and you aren’t weak. You are here now to serve others.” Although the second part of or her statement was truth, all I could think was “HOW DARE SHE!!!!?”If it’s her perception that being a survivor is a weak work, then she’s entitled to it, but I see it as the biggest honor that I could share and even have labeled on me.She followed up by saying “what’s worse is saying the word “warrior” ...“You do know my website is” Again, you shouldn’t be angry. Or feel like this is about you. This is about service to others. Why can’t I be proud of who I am at the same time encouraging and motivating others. Could I chalk it up to her older age or her own ongoing depression or just the fact that she was very verbose and always felt that her way was the actual highway? NO. NO. NO. Not this time. She doesn’t get to take a badge away from me that is my favorite one on my sash. And btw, I will scream out my WARRIOR survivor call whenever I can, and I know it is changing lives and continuing to bolster mine. Survivor is my favorite word.

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