The first Sunday in June is National Cancer Survivors Day. This is a day marked and intended to celebrate life and honor all those who are living with a history of cancer. What could possibly be wrong with this? On the surface, nothing at all, but…
Why is it so hard for me to fully embrace such a day?
My thoughts on this particular day’s designation have not changed much since I wrote “What’s Wrong With a Survivors Badge?” back in 2011. And yes, I’ve been blogging that long! I was uneasy with such a day designation back then. I still am.
I don’t care much for most labels. Never have. I don’t care much for the cancer survivor label either really. Admittedly, I have yet to come up with another word that works better, so yes, I use it too. I don’t wish to repeat myself, so you can read my thoughts and reasons for my uncomfortable-ness regarding the survivor “badge” via that earlier post if you’d like.
As I read through that earlier post and then the comments, once again, it hit me why I cannot fully embrace this day.
It feels a bit too celebratory. It sounds a bit too triumphant.
Yes, more and more people (some 14 million cancer survivors in the US alone) are surviving cancer. Yes, there is life after cancer (but not for everyone). Yes, life is always something to celebrate.
The intention of this day is to show what life post-cancer looks like (Good intentions perhaps, but is this really possible?) Here’s what’s stated on the website:
National Cancer Survivors Day is an opportunity for cancer survivors to come together and celebrate this new reality in cancer survivorship. There is life after cancer. It may not be the same as before cancer, but it can be beautiful, rewarding, and sometimes even better than before. And that’s something to celebrate.
So what’s my problem?
For me the crux of it (in addition to that ‘better than before” slippery slope) is that once again, it leaves out those who have not survived.
What about them?
Where’s their day?
We cannot continue to erase those who die from metastatic disease. We must never give the impression that we have beaten cancer because we have not.
And what about those presently living with mets?
They’re sort of in this survivors’ circle, yet at the same time, sort of on the outside looking in.
Back to that earlier post of mine… reading through the comments, I realized that on that one post – three women who commented have died from metastatic breast cancer since they left their comments. Two others have since been diagnosed with metastatic disease. That’s five women right there, whose families might not be feeling quite so celebratory about the state of affairs in Cancerland on this day or any other.
So yes, let’s celebrate life, caregivers, supportive friends and communities, talented and dedicated medical teams and scientific break-throughs and all the rest of the stuff worth celebrating. And kudos to the backers of this day for intending to shed light on the quality of life challenges that so many cancer survivors face for the rest of their lives.
However, the blinders must never be put on, not even for a day.
We must not forget that people are still dying from cancer. People are still living through horrendous cancer treatments. People are still trying to manage debilitating and long-lasting side effects from cancer treatment.
Let’s not pat ourselves on the back too many times on this day or any other.
And most survivors do not care about being patted on the back anyway, nor do they necessarily appreciate being referred to as brave or courageous; at least this one does not. (This is another goal of the National Cancer Survivors Day, that’s why I bring it up).
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 catalogue.
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.
Well said, Rachel, (AnnaCCChronicles was her pen name) and terrific question too.
So as for celebrating on National Cancer Survivors Day, although of course I’m grateful to be surviving, I think I’ll pass on the celebrating part.
Call me an oddball if you want, but I’m going to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have not survived.
As far as I’m concerned, those are the ones who deserve the honor every day.
How do you feel about National Cancer Survivors Day?
How do you feel about the survivor label?
Note: Since that original post was written, these three women (who left comments on that one post) have died from metastatic breast cancer: Rachel Cheetham Moro, aka The Cancer Culture Chronicles, Shelly Ray Gibbons, aka The Dirty Pink Underbelly and Cheryl Radford, author of the blog, Indigo Dreaming. Miss you all, ladies. We will not forget.