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What is a Survivor

Posted 4/21/2013

Posted in

  What or who is a survivor? Is it the definition first proposed by Fitzhugh Mullen for the National Coalition of Cancer Survivors--that you are a survivor from the moment of diagnosis? Is it someone who has lived in good health for X number of years (and what might that X be?) post diagnosis? Is it, as is suggested sometimes in the darkest of black humors, someone who has not had a cancer recurrence but can only be called a "cancer survivor" as she is dropping dead from some other cause?

  It may seem rather arcance, but this is a conversation that I often have. Some women embrace the word eagerly and proudly. Others, like me, shy away from it but can't come up with another word to subsititute. I personally don't much like it because I am superstitious (just say the word aloud ,goes this train of thought, and immediately the heavens will shoot thunderbolts at you) and beause it is a word commonly used in all kinds of life situations and because it sometimes seems self-congratulatory--as in, "I am a survivor" although plenty of wonderful and brave and strong women have died of breast cancer.

  This is an article from Cure that debates the point. There surely is no single right answer, but it is a thought-provoking article. I would really love to hear your comments. AND PLEASE NOTE THAT THE COMMENT SECTION IS WORKING, SO YOU CAN SHARE THEM!


Af ter John Bar t imole exper ienced early-stage esophageal cancer in 2006, he

didn’ t consider himself as a cancer survivor . Both of his parents died f rom

cancer . One sister was battling breast cancer and another sister was taking

prophylactic medication because of her high r isk of breast cancer . When he went

to medical appointments, he saw other cancer patients struggl ing just to live. He

figured hi s own good prognosis and minimal treatment with photodynamic

therapy didn’ t warrant the badge of survivorship.

“I considered this not as serious,” says Bartimole, who now has only periodic

endoscopies to monitor his condition. “These people went through hell and back.

Whi le I was very sick af ter treatment and had a few weeks of not being able to go

into sunlight , i t seemed like a walk in the park in comparison.”

It ’s not uncommon for people who’ve dealt with cancer to question thei r identity

and how they fit into the community of cancer survivorship.




The Survivor Debate




“People have taken the word survivor and debated it,” says Ellen Stovall, senior


health policy adviser for the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS)

and herself a survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma and breast cancer . “A lot of people

are uncomfortable with the word.”

It was one of the founders of NCCS, Fitzhugh Mullan, who first defined “survivor”

in a 1985 article published in


The New England Journal of Medicine, bringing the


concept into both medical and mainstream conversations. In essence, a person

was considered a survivor from diagnosis to death.


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