Our Friends Answer: How Do You Feel About the “Survivor” Word?

By on March 3rd, 2016 Categories: Community Knowledge

Recently, we asked our Facebook community this question:

We often hear the words “survivor” and “survivorship” in connection to ‪‎breast cancer. If you’ve finished treatment, you may feel comfortable thinking of yourself as a survivor; others might be uncomfortable with that word. And some living with metastatic disease consider themselves “survivors” as an ongoing part of living their lives; others don’t see it this way. How do you feel about the “survivor” words?

Here are some of the responses:

It offends me. Stage 4 is terminal. Calling me a “survivor” is denial. I am living as fully as possible now, but, eventually, cancer will kill me. Just call me [name withheld] and then hug me.

I struggle with the word survivor because others I knew were too but died of cancer eventually. I just like knowing I survived 1 day at a time and in June it will be 13 yrs since I was told I have breast cancer.

I don’t think of myself as a survivor but I am a warrior. I will always have to make sure to get my mammograms, pelvic ultrasounds and keep my fingers crossed that there will be no new diagnosis in my future!!

I don’t like the term. “Survival” isn’t my goal in life. Thriving is my goal. Survival was tolerating what happened and continues to happen. Thriving is finding something to gain from the experience, paying it forward, and having no regrets.

Ten years ago I was called a “patient” or a “victim” of cancer. Go ahead and label me “survivor” now. All that matters to me is that I’m “alive” and “living”!

I hate that word. How do you know if you’re a survivor unless you die of something else? Maybe I am a little hard, but I don’t want to call myself that then have it come back.

I think of it as surviving! Even when treatment is complete, most of us are left with the fallout. Pain, both emotional and physical is too often ignored by all around us who say “but the cancer is gone.” If they only knew. There is no such thing as gone.

For me, I don’t mind being called a survivor… I have survived many things in my lifetime. I’m very thankful for all of my tribulations, because I was strong enough, though I didn’t think I was at the time, to survive them all!

To me the word “Survivor” does not mean surviving from ill event …

To me the word survivor means a lot to myself because I can carry my life totally in a different life style which I never had earlier with a different routine with which enjoying my life in a constructive way to some extent. Somehow this word gives a new ray to me as well as to other patients who are undergoing treatment to feel that breast cancer can’t take away one’s life so easily but it provides them a hope to live life again. So I am proud to carry my life with this word.

My mother has metastatic breast cancer and although she is living comfortably for the time being, she will not survive this. “Living with cancer” is more appropriate in her case much like one “lives with” any other chronic illness.

It’s fine people can call me survivor. For myself, I’m just me and who I am living life!!! It was another roadblock in my story.

I not comfortable with having a battle against cancer. I just did the treatment, what needed to be done. So far I guess I am a survivor or am I just living.

I think the word “survivor” relates more to “surviving the brutally harsh treatments” than it does traversing the intricate details of this disease. People survive war. People thrive through adversity… Have we really survived something we still and forever worry about? Obviously, I am not a fan. No clear meaning to me.

Well, I’m not dying today! But I don’t understand the word! I was stage 1, supposed to be great forever, but instead only made it 1 year. Now stage 4 with lung mets. So survivor to me is a hard word. Lifer more describes what I feel. My onco says I’m great, but I don’t feel great 10 out of 21 days. But, I’m alive… not dead today and the sun is shining!

All I know is, at stage 4 with metastatic disease, I survived today. Many people who believe they are survivors will probably have a future recurrence. I’m surviving… a day at a time. No labels….

Yes, I am a survivor but it does not define me. I am so much more. Yet I remain thankful for every day.

I think of myself being a normal human being, getting on with life, sure, I have a deep rooted worry, but I try not to dwell.

I am not a fan of the word, but I use it sometimes because I haven’t come up with a good alternative either. Still it bothers me.

Survivor, how? That’s why I hate labels. We survive treatments. We survive the emotional woes ups and downs and side effects and such. But being there is no cure for cancer, how are we survivors? All we can hope for is NED. I guess you could say we survive each moment we know we are NED but that doesn’t do much for me.

I don’t think of myself as a “survivor.” I think of myself as someone who has been treated for cancer, like many others, hopefully it won’t come back.

We are are each a survivor from the day of our diagnosis. We aren’t guaranteed how long that will be…Every one is terminal from the day of conception. Just depends on how long life is given to us.

The labels don’t bother me. I have been “cancer-free” for 14 yrs. I think of myself as a survivor because cancer-free sounds strange. How can I ever be sure I am cancer-free?

As the song goes one day at a time and yup I am a survivor don’t mind being called that just so very grateful to be alive.

I never liked the term. I had cancer almost 13 years ago. Of course I think about getting it again, but not as often as I used to think about it. Mostly it’s just a disease that I once had.

I don’t want to be called a survivor. I want to be called blessed! I was diagnosed with breast cancer early stage 1. I had double mastectomy with reconstruction on February 9, 2016. I’m blessed to be home healing, amen.

Am I survivor I suppose I am, but when diagnosed with cancer I gave it to God. Trusting God helped me survive. So maybe I am just blessed. That works for me.

Well, I think I am survivor, but that doesn’t mean forever! I will still need to be accountable for my health… annual mammos, paps, and all. I, unfortunately, have a family history of cancers… but right now, I am going through radiation for breast cancer that we caught early on a mammogram. Lumpectomy and cancer is gone… doing maintenance to hopefully keep cancer away.

It’s ok, I use Pathseeker even tho I prefer survivor to all that journey business. Maybe if they had rehab for survivors I would feel differently about the “journey.” But I know people object to survivor so I just chose a middle way.

About to actually go for my survivorship but I guess with the unknown I don’t feel like one. Yes I survived the surgeries but can we be 100% sure we survived the cancer. I’m still terrified mine is still there. I guess it can be a positive and negative thing. I’ve made it this far, and those of you that have as well I’m glad you did.

I asked my oncologist what my “status” is. She said I am in remission up to 5 yrs. After 5 yrs with no recurrence, I will be cured. A survivor? I’m really not sure when I’ll reach that point.

Don’t like the words. I have stage IV which at some stage is terminal but I don’t think of it and that way, I live each day and am happy.

I like to say that I experienced cancer or describe my “journey with cancer.” To me, “survivor” implies that I did something to be cancer free, when in fact it is simply good luck that, so far, my cancer has not come back or metastasized! Those that have died from cancer or are still dealing with it are no different in their character or their determination or their hopes than those of us who are currently cancer-free!

I am a survivor and I am very grateful every day but there’s always that fear of it returning.

It makes me feel like I’m jinxing myself. I survived for now, but that can always be taken away.

I’m not a fan of labels. I’m just a girl who had breast cancer grateful for every day. Aren’t we all just trying to survive?

I am also a survivor because I put my life in God’s hands six years ago. Amen.

Survivor? The days I have no pain maybe! Survived another day.

I’m not a breast cancer survivor, I’m a winner girl. My oncologist tells me “My powerful girl.”

Don’t think I’m a “survivor” just because I’m NED. If I die of something else, then I’ll know I was a BC survivor.

I’m in remission — Feb 16th will mark 1 yr — every day is a gift to survive 1 day at a time.

I’m aware that the words cancer free are premature in my case. I’m still living with the ongoing fear of a recurrence of breast cancer or the development of a secondary cancer. So, it’s important for me to celebrate milestones along the way and I’ve learned to accept the term survivor. I’ve overcome a great deal and I’m still here two years after my initial diagnosis.

Survivor? Or is it a warrior?


We invite you to share your thoughts about being called a “survivor” in the comments below.

Claire Nixon, Editorial Director — Claire directs a team of writers, researchers, content managers, and physicians through the creation of high-integrity web content. She brings 20 years of experience in health communications and journalism to the Breastcancer.org team, as well as the lens of the patient – she was treated for breast cancer in 1998 and again in 2012. In her off-time, Claire enjoys creative writing, independent films, meditation, and the ocean.


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