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You Don’t Have to Be a Noble Cancer Patient (or Survivor)

The first Sunday in June is National Cancer Survivors Day®, a day I’m just not that into, though a lot of folks are. I respect that, but it’s not for me. You can read why I’m not that into it here should you wish. I guess this post is how I’m marking the day. Sure, it’s a bit sarcastic — a tongue-in-cheek sort of post, though I am dead serious too. My message for National Cancer Survivors Day®, or any day, is this: if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, I want you to know that you do not have to be a noble cancer patient (or survivor).

No, you do not.

(By the way, ‘survivor’ is not a label I’m particularly fond of, but I’m using it in this post. You might want to read, What’s Wrong with a Survivor Label Anyway?)

What the heck am I talking about?

First of all, what do I mean by noble in this context?

‘Noble’ as defined by Merriam-Webster when used as an adjective:

Definition 1a: possessing outstanding qualities. 3a: possessing very high qualities. Definition 5: possessing, characterized by, or arising from superiority of mind or character or of ideals or morals

Maybe noble isn’t even exactly the right word. Perhaps stoic is a better fit. Basically, what I’m talking about is that there’s a high bar or expectation regarding how a person should do cancer and survivorship.

Society likes Cancer Havers to be noble or at least appear to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for individuals, including those with cancer, striving to live their lives with high standards. I certainly try to.

A person’s core beliefs, values and actions might make them noble (or not), not how they deal with cancer. Cancer doesn’t make a person noble, nor should it.

And yet, Cancer Havers are expected to be a noble lot. Think about it. How many times have you heard Cancer Havers described as courageous, inspirational, strong, and brave?

We’re called fighters, warriors, and heroes in our battles with the big ‘C’. Never mind that we didn’t volunteer for this battle; we were drafted.

Do draftees of any sort feel particularly noble? (I’m just asking.)

(And the obsession with war metaphors in the first place — don’t get me started.)

In addition, Cancer Havers are expected to maintain a positive attitude if not all the time, at least most of the time. Appearing strong and stoic while not complaining too much is considered gold-standard cancer behavior, is it not?

And resilient?

Yes, Cancer Havers must be that too.

So, you need a biopsy, lumpectomy or even a mastectomy — suck it up, do it, and carry on. These things are just bumps in the road. Breasts don’t define you anyway, so carving them out a bit or even getting rid of them — no big deal. You’ll be fine.

You’re resilient. You’ll bounce back.

Radiation and/or chemo on your plate too? Tough break. Sure, they’ll be hard in the moment, but one day they’ll just be distant reminders of the battle you courageously fought and won. (If only.)

You just need to be a bit more resilient, bounce back once again, and continue being — well — noble.

All this bouncing back, being resilient while remaining noble sounds exhausting, right?

And…

If you’re metastatic, oh you poor thing. You are really going to have to tow the line, maintain a stiff upper lip, take that inspirational thing up a notch or two, or three. Still, you probably should refrain from sharing too much. Instead, just remain positive. Be uplifting. Embrace the moment. Any of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow, so just go out there and live your best life.

In others words, don’t talk too much about dying and death; be a noble metastatic cancer patient too.

It’s all rather mystifying. And yes, annoying too.

There are no gold stars, extra points (or years), or ribbons (pink or otherwise) doled out to those who keep their cancer truths under raps.

Of course, you don’t get any of those things if you do speak your truths either. But you might feel less stress, less pressure and as a result, feel more heard, more empowered, more understood and therefore, better.

Again, you don’t have to be a noble cancer patient or survivor. Nor must you accomplish big things, for that matter. No need to write a blog or book, climb a mountain, run in races, start a charity, or make a bucket list — unless of course, you want to.

In other words, and as I’ve written about before, you don’t have to be an over-achieving cancer patient. Not upon diagnosis. Not during treatment and not after. And most certainly not if you’re metastatic. There is no suffering quota test you must pass either.

As I’ve said many times, cancer or no cancer: be real. Be you. It’s enough.

No need to be a noble cancer patient or survivor.

Now, as for aiming to be a noble person of high standards and moral character…

Cancer or no cancer, perhaps we can all strive to be that. Big difference.

And as for National Cancer Survivors® Day…

I’m still just not that into it.

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Do you think Cancer Havers are held to a higher standard than folks with other disease regarding how to carry themselves?

Do you see a difference between aiming to be a noble Cancer Haver and a noble person, or am I way off base here ?

How do you feel about National Cancer Survivors Day® — All for it, opposed, or ambivalent?

If you like this post, why not share it?

Thank you!

Just because you have cancer, you don't have to be strong, stoic, courageous, positive, a warrior or noble. #survivor #cancersurvivor #survivorship

Jennifer A. O'Brien

Thursday 2nd of June 2022

Well said. Thank you.

Nancy

Friday 3rd of June 2022

Jennifer, Thank you so much.

Philip

Thursday 2nd of June 2022

Great blog Nancy - thanks

Nancy

Thursday 2nd of June 2022

Philip, Thank you.

Christina Jue

Wednesday 1st of June 2022

I've definitely acknowledged having metastatic breast cancer was hard on social media and to my friends and acquaintances. I've complained about treatment and told them my life expectancy. I wasn't super teary about it, but I didn't try to hide it by saying my life was amazing either.

And they seemed totally okay with that. The people who said I wasn't performing up to par on stoicism were people who didn't know me or older people (I'm 33). So, I think society is changing for the better on this viewpoint. They still have a long way to go, but compared to the previous generation of cancer patients in the 80s and 90s who were basically told never to talk about cancer, I have it pretty good.

I want one day people to be able to express their feelings without accusations or recriminations of not being resilient enough. That's a larger societal problem; it's not just limited to the cancer environment. But progress is still being made.

Nancy

Thursday 2nd of June 2022

Christina, I'm glad you've been able to be upfront with friends about your reality. I can't believe you know folks who've said you aren't performing up to par. That is so wrong! I agree that a lot of things have changed for the better, but gosh, there's still a long way to go. Your points about resiliency are good ones. Thank you for sharing.

Sherry

Wednesday 1st of June 2022

I needed this today. I feel like a total cancer fail because I'm just trying to make it through. I don't want to be a hero, I just want it over. I talked too much about the reality of it and have no friends now but I have a great family who loves me so I am lucky. Anyway, thank you. It really helped me today.

Emily

Thursday 9th of June 2022

@Sherry, I concur. This was everything I needed to hear today! It is exhausting being a “warrior” with a positive attitude ALL the time. And when people ask how you are…what they want to hear is usually the opposite of how I actually am. We pacific our supporters to make them feel better. It’s so weird. I am certainly grateful to be alive but the cancer having process is lifelong, it never really ends, and it sucks. So I feel like a healthy dose of cynicism is allowed too! Best wishes to you :)

Nancy

Thursday 2nd of June 2022

Sherry, You are not a cancer fail at all. So sorry some friends have disappeared. Thank goodness you have a great family. I'm glad my article resonated, and I really appreciate you taking time to tell me that it did. Thank you.

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