Saturday, May 31, 2014

What Makes a Cancer Survivor?

As we approach National Cancer Survivors Day, I am thinking about what defines a cancer survivor. 

Is a cancer survivor one of the lucky ones who has been determined to be cancer free? Many know the exact day that they attained that status and celebrate it every year. They have every reason to be proud because their cancer-free status did not come easily.

Or does the title of cancer survivor include warriors still in search of hearing they are free of cancer, fighting furiously to hear those beautiful words ... No Evidence of Disease ... and for the opportunity to live life without all that cancer brings?

Or is it the newly diagnosed cancer patient who is overwhelmed with all the medical jargon and the journey that awaits them?

I was first introduced to Cancer Survivors Day around 2005. I had taken my daughter Jaime, a 27-year-old melanoma patient, to Baylor Hospital Sammons Cancer Center in Dallas for an appointment. Baylor's lobby was filled with tables overflowing with cookies and punch and flowers celebrating cancer survivors, and I was excited that they had done this to make my little cancer fighter feel special (along with all other cancer survivors, of course!). Jaime was a cancer survivor for 9 years, and we cherished every single one of them.

And does the honor of being a cancer survivor extend to those of us who have never had cancer but were caregivers and advocates to someone very special to us who did? Although cancer claimed our loved ones' lives and our hopes and dreams, we remained behind ... we survived. 

I have told the story before of attending my first melanoma walk a few months after Jaime died, and at the registration table I was asked if I was a melanoma survivor (because they had special t-shirts for the survivors). I didn't even stop to think before I answered "yes." Jaime had died from melanoma and had taken most of me with her ... but the small part of me that was at that walk had survived. In my mind, I was a melanoma survivor!

No matter what definition you use for "cancer survivor," I salute you all. Every one of you have earned the title! And one way to celebrate is to change your profile photo to honor yourself or someone you love who is or has been a cancer survivor by using the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute's Facebook app:

I do hope that all cancer survivors will take a minute on National Cancer Survivors Day (or any day for that matter) to thank their medical teams for fighting by their side along the way to becoming a survivor. 

I further hope that this year and every year going forward, we will see more and more survivors until there is a cure for cancer. Isn't it about time? 

Please also see my blog "Purple, Pink, or Black: It All Sucks!"

Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna)

Twitter: @melanoma_mama
Facebook: (Remember Jaime) (Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds)
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  1. As a survivor, I live today as if there is no tomorrow.i try to help anyone that asks for it. I am a melanoma advocate.

  2. 11 years melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma free.
    Cherish every day!