More Than a Survivor

Don D | Physician |

As I think of the term “survivor”, what comes to mind are figures of people who have lived through something horrific- war, famine, tornadoes, natural disasters; those who have walked through the darkness and…

are still here – living proof that the human spirit can be tested and still survive.

As I think about survivors in context of the Mass General Cancer Center, it strikes me how rare it is that anyone touched by cancer call themselves “survivors”, particularly those treated or under treatment for cancer. It also is interesting how rare it is for me to use this term to describe my own patients. While I believe that the experience of cancer is as significant (and for some, even transcends) the experience of those who have lived through an external disaster, the term does little to personalize the experience for the one who has just walked that journey (and continues on that path).

To me, patients with cancer and those who continue to thrive and survive after cancer are more than cancer survivors – they are fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters; daughters and sons; husbands and wives.


  1. You are so right. I would love to survive a catostrophic event and would consider myself a survivor. After that event you may choose to move somewhere safer or choose to stay and “risk it”. When it comes to the “c” word I don’t know if you ever “survive” There is no “moving away”

    sherry2310 | | 2:36pm

  2. For me, the word survivor would come into play when one and only one remains standing. With ovarian cancer, there is such uncertainty and a wait and watch approach that I am hard pressed to call myself a survivor. If and when my cancer is obliterated, I could then say yes, I am a survivor.

    angela | | 5:49pm

  3. I find all of this very interesting. The verb “survive” means “continue to live” and I agree that this does not seem to do justice when it comes to people who battle through this horrific disease. Of course the same can be said of Holocaust Survivors, who also battled through unimaginable horrors and tragedy.
    Perhaps a better term is “Cancer Warrior.” This suggests someone who actively battles against the disease (and consciously or unconsciously all patients do) and whether or not a given patient does live in the end – are they all not warriors?
    Just a thought. Maybe warrior isn’t the right word, but I’m on the right track? LOL, these things are always difficult! I “lived through” septic shock and I’ll tell you it was one hell of a battle. I might as well been on a battlefield! Coming out of that coma was the single most frightening experience of my life; I wish it on no person, ever.
    Best wishes to all…
    🙂 John

    John Michael | | 11:09pm

  4. Thank you for bringing ateottinn to this very personal, and very important, marker in a “Survivor’s” calendar. It may also gratify you to know that the research you cited about survivors giving back to their community, is indeed credible on a tangible level, too. Two such souls – surviving a teen suicide in 2004 – are currently giving presentations in public schools in our area about the dangers of bullying – and the potential for suicide as the result. May peace be with all this special day.

    Samia | | 5:25am

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