Ongoing “Survivor” Conversation

Editor |

This month’s conversation about what “survivor” means to many of us continues on, but let’s look back on the many ideas that have come up so far, there were some disagreements… about the central issue of “survivor” as a positive achievement, or a sort of defining mill-stone. For some people the word is a “badge” to be worn “proudly”, but “it totally rubs others the wrong way. What we hear is that cancer patients just want their lives back and want to go back to being “normal”. However, one of the secrets of being a cancer survivor is that there is no going back and that you have to create a “new normal”” (Mara B, Administrator). This perspective led to one comment about coming to terms with “living with cancer” rather than being a “survivor of cancer.” (Marg M). There is also the pressure that being a survivor can impose. As patient Kathleen suggested, “I felt that I had to live up to certain expectations and I still do, seven years out”. Surviving is a goal of course, but many felt we should be careful that it doesn’t become the only lens we look through.

Survivor Word CloudAs with our conversation about “Care” last month, you can see a word cloud for Survivor on this post too, which allows us to see what the more common words from all the perspectives pieces have been. Bigger words on the word cloud have been used most often, and smaller ones a little less often. (We filtered out the keywords “Cancer” and “Survivor” from the cloud, this time around)

For us, some of the larger words on this month’s cloud – “become”, “experience”, “living” – seem to help to explain some of the ways those touched by cancer reconcile themselves to the condition, and survive. “Become” is a word that could be connected to re-inventing yourself, and making a new you, post-diagnosis. “Experience” seems to suggest a way of thinking about the disease that is quite circumspect – in some ways being a cancer survivor could be seen as being someone who looks at cancer as more than an affliction alone. “Living” is the normal state of being that being a survivor really means – all of us affected directly or indirectly by cancer strive to live our lives beyond the condition.

Do you see the word cloud differently? Please leave a comment below if it suggests other things to you about what our conversation on “survivor” has shown us.


  1. I am an ovarian cancer survivor who gives presentations about all aspects of this new role or identity. I see cancer as a challenge from which I am to learn and grow. I turned it from a negative experience to a more positive life journey. I have done this same thing for most of my life: being an abused child survivor; a divorcee survivor; untimely deaths of loved ones survivor to name a few. I particularly like your statement about living is the normal state of being that a survivor really means…to live beyond the condition.

    Karen Ingalls | | 1:14pm

  2. I am a kidney cancer and lung cancer survivor. I look on life so differently now. What used to be just another day is now a gift to me. Surviving cancer is life . Realistically anyone of us can die tomorrow but Today I live.Thank you to all the doctors and staff at Mass General. Most of all to my wonderful sister Maureen Seluta in radiology.

    Do Hyland | | 11:11am

  3. As a three time cancer survivor, every day my calendar remindes me: Promise – DWABD –
    DWABD is an acronym for Don’t waste a beautiful day! Every day is a gift!

    carolyn maltack | | 4:56pm

  4. The first time I was told by a Np at another hospital when asked about the status of my breast cancer that what I could say is I am a survivor. My first reaction that is a term that says nothing. Or better stated what I wanted to say that it was completely gone never to return a closed chapter. Learning to live with uncertainty and to be a true survivor positive in thought and mind I’m still working on. As a survivor one thing I can see is some of the silver linings of my cancer. Changes I have long needed to make are getting done. Being a survivor to me means stressing urgency. To stop wasting time and make the things you want to happen, happen now. Being a survivor says to me being better about living in the moment. Always appreciating the gift in front of you. Hopefully the time and awareness to reach a place of no regret. Survivor means to me the strength and grace to deal with whatever comes your way.

    M | | 3:21pm

  5. I would like to share the Patriot Ledger article from Oct 1st, 2014 on pg 12. There is also an article about the wonderful Cancer Support Community in Norwell, Ma.

    Mariette | | 11:32am

  6. Interesting word. Survivor is an over-used cliche attached to many difficult situations that life can throw at you. It’s a word I prefer to avoid as it just seems to drag up negative connotations. I prefer to think that I persevered through the uncertainty of what landed on my head. Cancer is a nasty word that will always be apart of my Life, as having breast cancer myself and being the primary care taker for two men I loved dearly. My husband Stephen who died at 46 of bile duct cancer and my 2nd husband John who died at 55 of pancreatic cancer.

    They were both postive individuals and never gave up. They both rejected and loathed the term fighter. They just did what they thought they should do, persevere. Neither wanted to know how much time they had left. We chose to concentrate on what each day brought and made the most of it. They were truly remarkable men and I am proud and humbled that I was able to help them through their journal’s.

    janice del vecchio | | 11:10pm

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Part of the conversation "Survivor"