National Cancer Survivors Day

According to the website, NCSD.org, National Cancer Survivors Day® (NCSD) is the first Sunday in June each year and is set aside as:

celebration for those who have survived, an inspiration for those recently diagnosed, a gathering of support for families, and an outreach to the community.1

Definition of survivor

The NCSD, as many others do, define a "survivor" as follows:

A survivor is anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.

  • If you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer – you’re a survivor.
  • If you’ve been in remission for 20 years – you’re a survivor.
  • If you’re an adult who had cancer as a child – you’re a survivor.
  • If you’re living with cancer as a chronic disease – you’re a survivor.
  • If you’re currently in active treatment for cancer – you’re a survivor.
  • If you’ve beaten cancer and been declared cancer-free – you’re a survivor.

Whether you’re in treatment, just diagnosed, or have been in remission for 20 years, you’re a cancer survivor.2

Now, if you've read any of my articles, I suspect you might be thinking something along the lines that this isn't an article that I usually write.  And you'd be correct, so far.

My story

As soon as I was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) de novo in 2017, I found myself looking around for other people like me.  I found a support group for people diagnosed with breast cancer but was asked not to attend since I might scare the other attendees.  At the time, I didn't find myself too angry because I was so scared, the idea of scaring others with my reality made sense.

This is the thing when we receive an MBC diagnosis, we're scared because it is scary. Despite all of the research and toil and work over the decades and centuries past, Stage IV is still a death sentence. Now it isn't an immediate death sentence any longer, but MBC is incurable, it is terminal, it will end our lives.

My perspective

And so I look at things like a National Cancer Survivors Day and I get why those who have been through cancer treatment, who feel as though cancer is behind them, they need to be recognized.  We all know intimately how hard it is to endure treatment for cancer. We all know intimately how that treatment takes a toll on the body, the mind, the spirit, the families, everything. Sure, if I was in that position, I'd probably proudly join the parades, wear the gauzy tutus, and rah-rah my heart out.

But those of us with MBC, we're not in that position.

MBC isn't chronic, yet.

While I do appreciate the half-hearted, back-handed afterthought of trying to include anyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer (kinda), it doesn't ring true.  We're still the pink elephants in the room.  We're still the ones who scare everyone else.  We're still the ones that the social workers and the rah-rah organizers would just prefer to stay home.  We're still the ones who bring the unwelcome whiff of truth to those who are burying their heads in the sand of denial.

There isn't a cure for MBC yet

The treatments beat cancer into submission and then the tests look carefully to see if any stray cells are left.  But our tests are still unable to examine every cell in the body.  Once cancer has slipped the bonds of our immune system and is able to run rampant over parts of our bodies and then more parts of our bodies, there is no actual cure. Yes, people with early-stage cancer can live the rest of their natural lives with No Evidence of Disease (NED) and I hope many are in that category, several of my family members included.

But that's just not the whole story.

Hard work, endurance and struggle

Those of us who face the terminal nature of our disease, who show up at appointment after appointment to be poisoned further, who endure the brokenness of the health care system day after day, who keep showing up for ourselves, for each other; we are the ones who earn the title of warrior, endurer, conscript, cancer-haver.  We may never get to the "status" of survivor, but I say we have far surpassed those people who are able to leave cancer treatment behind.

Pretty sure we deserve the rest of the 364 days of the year to be set aside to celebrate this hard work, this endurance, this struggle.

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