Sunday, June 4th, is National Cancer Survivors Day®. This year marks the event’s 30th anniversary. I’ve never been a fan of this particular designated day. You can read why here and here. In a nutshell, it sounds too celebratory to my liking, and also because it excludes those with metastatic disease. I know some (maybe even you) ask, why be such a wet blanket about this?
Well, because reality matters. We must never accept or promote the illusion that we’ve tackled cancer because we have not. We must never accept cancer progress hype, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s what this day feels like. And if there’s one thing we do not need more of in Cancer Land, it’s cancer progress hype.
For example, cancer treatment hype exists. I’ve been meaning to write a post about the annoying TV ads put out by major cancer centers, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Talk about hype. Some of these ads leave the impression that all you need to do to “beat” cancer is get treatment at whatever institution is being featured in the particular ad you are viewing.
Designating a day like National Cancer Survivors Day® feels like cancer progress hype as well, and even well-meaning hype can be harmful because giving the pubic the impression we’re doing better than we really are gets us nowhere fast.
No doubt about it, we’ve made huge strides in Cancer Land regarding some things. However, I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like celebrating quite yet.
I visited the website promoting National Cancer Survivors Day® again recently and the mission of the day remains the same:
National Cancer Survivors Day® is an annual, treasured Celebration of Life that is held in hundreds of communities nationwide, and around the world, on the first Sunday in June. It is a CELEBRATION for those who have survived, an INSPIRATION for those recently diagnosed, a gathering of SUPPORT for families, and an OUTREACH to the community. On National Cancer Survivors Day®, thousands gather across the globe to honor cancer survivors and to show the world that life after a cancer diagnosis can be fruitful, rewarding, and even inspiring.
Just because I’ve had a cancer diagnosis, I don’t feel I deserve a day to be honored for doing what I was told. For showing up to appointments. For having the surgeries. For following treatments laid out for me. I do not deserve a day of honor for still being here when my mother and many of my friends (as well as countless others I never knew) are not. They deserve honor (among other things), not me.
Such a celebratory day feels blatantly dismissive. Those who live daily with the knowledge they will likely not survive cancer are left standing on the outside looking in. Again. Unacceptable! I will not erase those who did not and will not survive.
It might also make those who are struggling and feel their post-diagnosis lives are anything but fruitful, rewarding and inspiring to feel left out as well.
I must mention, I noticed the site’s blog this year includes a post written by the spouse of someone who did not survive her cancer. So there’s at least an attempt to address the fact that many do NOT survive cancer.
I guess that’s progress. Sort of. But it’s not enough.
I often revisit the wise words of my friend Rachel Cheetham Moro who said this about National Cancer Survivors Day®:
I don’t appreciate made up holidays like National Cancer Survivors Day® which is sponsored by our friendly big pharma corps. You can even buy medals and badges to hand out at these events, because of course there’s a merchandise catalog.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to how people deal with cancer at any stage, and this is where the concept of “survivor” gets cloudy for me. Aside from being a person with stage IV disease, these branded kinds of celebrations feel a bit vacuous to me. Obviously no one is ever the same again after a cancer diagnosis, but I think as a culture we need to be very careful about what we choose to celebrate. By celebrating survivorship are we implying that we have been successful in fighting the collective cancer battle? Doesn’t feel that way from my perch.
Amen to that.
And then there’s the whole survivor label issue itself to contend with. Sometimes it feels like the survivor label is being jammed down my throat and if I resist, I’m considered to be ungrateful. Which, of course, I am not. I just don’t need or want a survivor’s badge. I do not care to be defined by such a word.
A person can lose herself, or be swallowed up by a label, any label.
That’s why even seven years after my diagnosis, I hesitate to “wear” the survivor label. It feels uncomfortable to me. As I’ve mentioned before, I admit to using it sometimes because I can’t come up with an alternative word that people relate to.
I don’t know about you, but I avoid using it whenever I can.
A few people have commented on previous posts that they see National Cancer Survivors Day® as an opportunity for outreach. Some love the survivor label as well. I respect everyone’s views regarding this day and this label. In fact, if you support this particular day’s designation, I’d love to hear from you.
For me, the bottom line remains this: there’s danger in making it sound as if we have successfully triumphed over cancer because again, we have not. And I will not leave my sisters and brothers dealing with metastatic disease standing on the outside looking in.
So, as far as celebrating on National Cancer Survivors Day® – thanks, but no thanks. I’ll pass. Again.
I’m still just not that into it.
What about you?
How do you feel about the survivor label?
Do you think National Cancer Survivors Day sounds too celebratory or do you appreciate the day’s designation?
Am I just being a wet blanket?