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You Are A Breast Cancer Survivor When ...

By March 20, 2009

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A reader in Arizona recently contacted me, asking about support groups in her area. She was only three months out of treatment when she tried meeting with a group of older women, and "the seventy-somethings said to me that my plans for a unified group with fun, exciting activities and outreach were great -- but I was not yet a survivor -- so I was not welcome."

She reacted with shock, and now says that she will "work tirelessly to change ideas and make heath care and all supporting activities available to everyone." Good for her!

I know it's hard to talk about being a survivor, because we can never really say that we are "cured" from breast cancer. We can say we're in remission, or we're NED - No Evidence of Disease, or we're stable - for those of us that were diagnosed with metastatic disease and are progression-free. But everyone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer has had to endure emotional upheaval as well as some kinds of treatment.

Seven years ago, when I was diagnosed, I found a support group for newly diagnosed women before I even started treatment, and was welcomed instantly. But that happened in a major metropolitan area, whereas my reader lives in a rural area.

So when can you call yourself a survivor? Does someone else set that standard, or do you decide? Does the culture you live in make a difference as to when you can say you are a breast cancer survivor? This isn't a reality TV show, with viewers voting you on, or off, Cancer Island! This is your life and your health. I'd like to know what you think. Vote in my poll, and let me know:

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March 20, 2009 at 12:58 pm
(1) ibs says:

I am a psychologist. In the world of psychology, we generally use the word survivor when we are talking about a person who has undergone trauma. I can think of few things that are as traumatic as being diagnosed with breast cancer. I wish the best of health to all of you breast cancer “survivors” out there.

March 26, 2009 at 2:32 pm
(2) phienix28 says:

You are a survivor when you say you are a survivor. That’s what I think (and aparently most of the people responding to the poll agree!!) Anyone who tells you you cannot “join the group” and tells you how to feel about yourself is pushy and arrogant and doesn’t deserve to be in a group designed to help others. (And the main reason I never joined any of the supposed “support” groups.)

March 28, 2009 at 7:11 am
(3) Helen O'Blenis says:

you survive the blow to the stomach when you learn you have breast cancer, you survive the surgery, you survive the chemo, you survive the 3month and 6 month checkups.
The thing is YOU SURVIVE!!

May 16, 2009 at 12:38 pm
(4) JBBC says:

What a thought-provoking piece Pam. I cannot believe someone with breast cancer would be made to feel like she wasn’t a survivor because she hadn’t reached some undefined time scale of “survivorship”. This was certainly not the support group she needed. As a matter of interest I looked up the definition of survive in my dictionary and it states that to survive means “to remain alive or in existence … to continue to function or prosper”. Well three months down the line this lady was certainly a survivor by that definition.

February 27, 2013 at 10:46 am
(5) Eileen says:

Wow, I so can relate to this woman. I just went yesterday and waiting for my 6 month post Chemo lab results. I feel this stage we are lost. You have everyone around you during your treatment. Now I feel like a sitting duck, waiting to hear, no signs of Cancer at this time.
It’s nerve wracking. We will never be FREE, the Cancer ghost will always haunt us. But we are ALIVE and need to look at every day as a blessing and move forward. I will admit some days are better than others. You think I am normal and want to move on, but then you look in the mirror and see scars and your hair trying to grow back and the memory is there.
So girl we are SURVIVORS and yes we still need support. Live everyday with new sights.

February 27, 2013 at 11:00 am
(6) Christina says:

I have had breast cancer, this march it will have been 1 year since I was told I am cancer free. I don’t see myself as a survivor. I see myself as I got sick & got better. But I have joined support groups n made friends along the way that have helped me adjust a deal w my new way if life. Any disease deserves respect, & support. There should be no qualifications.

February 27, 2013 at 11:01 am
(7) MJR says:

I think about this often. Am I considered a survivor?? I am still suffering pain and swelling 7 months post radiation after three breast surgeries. I wish someone could tell me. I would think that when they tell you they removed all your cancer, from this point on you become a survivor. I tell everyone I am a survivor even though I don’t feel well yet. My news could have been a lot worse than it was with no chance of survival. So when I think about it that way, I am a survivor!!

February 27, 2013 at 1:13 pm
(8) co says:

it will be 11 yrs in august since i had surgery, and 10 yrs this past decemeber from when the oncologist told me dead or dying in 3 months without immediately starting chemo–which i promptly refused to do and still grateful everyday i said NO.

My opinion only but I dont like the term survivor, since there is no cure.I have existed 10 yrs past the dire predictions of an oncologist, I survived 18 yrs of physical and emotional abuse at the the hands of my adopted father, i survived catholic school, I survived high school bullying, i survived my trip to work today, but the only way i will ‘survive’ breast cancer is to die of something else.

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