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On Being a Survivor

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There was a time that I did not want to think of myself as a "cancer survivor."

I was afraid it would "jinx" my recovery.
I was afraid I was being presumptuous.
I was afraid it would be temporary.
I did not like being singled out.

With each year that passed, I was able to exhale just a little bit more than the year before, until finally - there, I said it - I was a survivor. I don't know exactly when that moment was, but I suspect it was about the time I just got tired of holding my breath and not engaging in life.

What does it mean to be a survivor? I'm still not sure. Does it mean the cancer will never return? No one can give me a guarantee of that. But then again, where are the guarantees in life?

Does it mean that I am courageous and strong? To some, I am, since they "can't imagine" how they'd be if they had to face down a cancer diagnosis. But to me, I'm not all that courageous and strong. I just did what I had to do to get through surgery, chemo and all the other psychological and physical ramifications of the disease. You'd do it to, I want to say, if you had to. What's your other choice, after all?

Does it mean that I can face anything, now that I've faced cancer? I doubt it. With each new challenge comes a different set of problems, roadblocks, emotions and issues. But maybe it's like riding a bike. Once you learn how, the next time you get on it's easier. You're steadier and speedier, more capable and confident.

I used to think being a cancer survivor deserved to be in a category all its own. I'm not so sure I feel the same way anymore.

After all, we are all survivors - of something. A childhood friend of mine survived growing up in an alcoholic family. Others survived sexual abuse, emotional abuse, teasing, a broken heart, the death of a child or a spouse, an automobile accident, a stroke of other life-threatening or disabling illness, food poisoning, a mental breakdown, unemployment...even Bernie Madoff.

Every day, people we read about (or perhaps know) survive earthquakes, war, fire, floods, famine, gunshots.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.