The Survivor Word

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

APRIL 03, 2017

Some years ago, the National Coalition of Cancer Survivors (NCCS) put forth the following definition: A person is a cancer survivor from the moment of diagnosis for the duration of his/her life. The phrase is widely used, and stimulates strong feelings in many people.

More people than not like it. It surely is succinct, and, in spite of thinking about it for years, no one has been able to offer an easy alternative. That one word is simpler to fit into conversation than a longer sentence, or even paragraph, about your health history. As an example, I would have to say something like: "I have been diagnosed and treated for two breast cancers." Not exactly a snappy phrase.

As it probably obvious, I don't like the term. I am sufficiently superstitious to not want to flaunt my, so far, good health. Even more important, I think that survivor is a kind of value judgment. If you had done better/more, you would not have died from cancer. What is that old cliche: People who are alive feel superior to those who are dead.

On the other side of opinion, many people easily embrace and use the term I was pleased to hear about this survey regarding our feelings. It is short, and I hope you will take it:

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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