What does it mean to be a survivor? Is is just a physical state of being alive despite adversity? Or is it a mindset? A new way of thinking?
As one of many survivors of breast cancer I have found that there is a divide between those who, like myself, embrace survivorship and others who vehemently object to the term. The problem is that you can never be 100% sure that the cancer has gone. It is this uncertainty which leads people to question whether they have survived, or if it’s still there, lurking, waiting to multiply and spread, to become terminal.
I was diagnosed towards the end of 2014 and I imagine my thoughts and fears were similar to others in the same position. That having cancer meant I was going to die, that it would kill me. Luckily, my prognosis is good, I found the cancer early and there was no spread to the lymph nodes. Not so luckily, my cancer was an aggressive little beastie, hellbent on dividing, multiplying, growing and causing as much harm as possible. Luckily, my surgery was successful in removing aforementioned beastie and as of December 2014, I was classified as NED, no evidence of disease.
Post surgery things were looking good, so luckily, I was spared radiotherapy. But because of the aggressive nature of my cancer (and because I was young), unluckily, I still had to undergo 18 months of chemotherapy and targeted therapy to destroy any of the little beastie’s spawn that may be trying to invade my body (just in case). In addition to these treatments, I am also on hormone therapy (tamoxifen) for a minimum of 10 years, again just in case.
Am I a survivor even though I have to take daily tablets to stop any hypothetical cancer cells from growing? Am I survivor despite never having heard the words “all clear”?
We don’t know what the future holds, no one does, but at this very moment in time, there’s no reason to worry. So each December, when my annual checks confirm that I’m still ok, I celebrate survivorship, my NEDversary, another year that I’m winning and cancer is losing.
Yes, I am a survivor, and that’s a great thing to be.