The Damage of the Label ‘Cancer Patient’

A woman writes about how being labeled a ‘cancer patient’ gives her a feeling of lost identity.

“Cancer patient.” Those two words can hold so much power and yet be the two most dreadful words ever put together. In today’s society, words hold so much influence over our daily lives. Whether you are describing your status at work or establishing a new friendship, we seem to be using our dialogue as sentiment. There is an old poem that as a child we would reiterate time and again that says, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Growing up, I honestly believed that. It was not until I was diagnosed with cancer that I realized words can cause wounds deeper than any stick or stone.

I remember the first time I overheard someone call me a “cancer patient.” I felt like this huge label was slapped on my forehead and my name had been changed. Everything that I felt represented a person with cancer was now how people saw me, I thought: the bald head, no eyebrows, slouched posture, dried lips, doctor visits, medical bills and sorrow. My views on cancer and what cancer looked like bombarded my mind almost every day. I dreaded each hair that fell out, each medication I was now taking, each doctor’s visit and each blood draw. The “cancer patient” label really threw me into a mental jail.

Each time that I would try to get out of the house or just sit on the front porch, I felt like everyone’s eyes were watching me. The wondering looks I would get from people passing by blasting their music were hard to stomach for me. I knew I was looking rough. I knew that I looked sick, but what I wasn’t ready for was when people would ask me if I was a “cancer patient.” I was dreading having to answer that question as it truly hurt my feelings.

To me, “cancer patient” was just a label. I was feeling sick, yes, but I also was feeling like I was kicking ass. I looked sick, yes, but I also realized that my body was going through a war at the moment, and I was fighting for my life. I embraced the baldness after I decided that I wasn’t going to let a disease win, so I shaved my own head on a live video to feel like I had some control over my current outlandish medical situation. I held my head high while taking numerous amounts of new medication, I smiled through all of the atrocious pain, and I still pushed my weak and brittle body each day to get up out of bed and live my life, but in return I smacked with the label of being a “cancer patient.” That didn’t sit well with me.

I feel like we put labels on things that we don’t understand or that are foreign to us. We have labels for those earning more than us, for those who are different from us and for those who are going through medical situations. What I find concerning about being called a “cancer patient” is that I felt like my identity was stripped of me. I was not being called by my name – I was being called by my disease, and my disease definitely did not define me.

So, the next time you have contact with someone who looks like they may be going through active cancer treatment, please be courteous to their feelings. Please remember that person is currently fighting for their life and does not need a label to define who they are. We have names for a reason.

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