“In cancer, survivorship focuses on the health and well-being of a person with cancer from the time of diagnosis until the end of life”.
I hear this word, A LOT! People ask in the elevator at the hospital, “are you a survivor?” I have attended quite a few functions for “Survivors”. I have clothing that reads, “Survivor”. And yet, the word still doesn’t impact me. I guess I take it for granted. Of course I am a survivor, I’m standing here aren’t I?
Sometimes the word makes me angry. When you google the definition of survivor, you are immediately educated about a reality television show. These are survivors? They choose to go on this show. They choose to put themselves in grueling situations for a short period of time. Has anyone actually died on the show, which according to Webster dictionary. would make the remaining contestants true survivors. We are not comparing apples to apples here.
Then, one day, my husband tells me that my step-mom has stage IV cancer, too. That sentence stops me in my tracks, taking the air right out of my lungs. I sob, I yell, I fall to my knees. I hear that word again, but…she is a “survivor”. I immediately envision the two of us on a remote island together, trying to start fires rubbing two sticks together, standing arm in arm, emaciated in our bathing suits, carrying that torch! I am angry, again.
This is a different anger than when I was diagnosed though and I cannot seem to figure it out. I don’t want to leave my room. I don’t want to talk much. I don’t want to eat. Am I depressed? Why does her diagnosis feel so much heavier than my own? I am a survivor, aren’t I? Aren’t I supposed to know what to say and how to care for her? But, I don’t. I just want to cry and curl up in a ball and tell the world to suck it.
My sisters, brother and I spend countless hours on the phone together trying to find, arrange, fix, and demand the best care for her. I am in another state so, although I am the cancer “expert”, there is little I can do from afar. It is beyond frustrating. I am not getting much sleep, my own health is spiraling down hill and that scares me, too. Why does this feel so hard, again? I have been battling cancer for four years and yet this feels similar to the day I was diagnosed.
Then, I see the rest of the definition of “survivorship” in a pamphlet in my hospital. “Family members, friends, and caregivers are also considered part of the survivorship experience”. It hits me. I am now a caregiver. I am not just a cancer patient anymore. All of the lights come on and the reality of what I am feeling hits me like a ton of bricks.
Could it be that caregiving for a cancer patient is even harder than living with cancer?
I feel helpless. I should be able to help her, I have cancer. I should be able to say exactly what she needs to hear to feel better. I should be able to support my Dad as so many have supported me. Yet, I curl up in a little ball on my bed and cry. I am helpless. I cannot take away her fear. I cannot say exactly what she needs to hear to fight this. I am powerless. Her pain, her suffering, her fear feels heavier than anything I have ever personally experienced. Is this what I have put my own family and friends through?
I see the rest of that definition in my mind. We are ALL survivors. Every, single one of us. If you are reading this blog, you are a survivor. We are all on this damn island together!
I have a new respect for the word now. I am a cancer survivor and you are, too. LOVE>cancer