—a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.
—a person who copes well with difficulties in their life.
I’ve learned the importance of this word, which has helped me as I’ve struggled to cope with cancer and its effects on me and those close to me.
The definition of “survivor” has changed over the years to account for the large number of people living beyond diagnosis. The American Cancer Society estimates that by 2024, the population of cancer survivors in the United States will increase to almost 19 million. To reflect the wide range of experiences among cancer patients, in 1996 the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship created a new definition of a cancer survivor as “any person diagnosed with cancer, from the time of initial diagnosis until his or her death.” The Mayo Clinic encourages all cancer survivors to create their own definitions of survivorship.
I had been on my cancer journey for more than twenty years before I ever called myself a survivor.
It was in 2010, when my wife, Debbie, and I began to embrace the term. In that year, I was diagnosed with a number of chronic conditions found to be directly or indirectly linked to the radiation treatments and chemotherapy I’d had years before. The unintended side effects from these therapies are known in the cancer community as late effects. Mine include heart and lung disease.
I was in remission from cancer, but the late effects complicated and even threatened my daily lifestyle. Debbie and I have experienced a number of setbacks and have had to make many adjustments in every area of our lives. However, in my own struggles, I’ve always found that personal growth continues to be a part of the cancer journey.
With three decades of survivorship experience, I’m still learning how to make the most of each day.
On any given morning, I may wake up feeling somewhat lonely. On the next, I might feel a sense of joy, ready to get outdoors and tackle what’s ahead. The happiest days are the ones during which I live fully in the now. Sweeter still is when I find myself living in the moment. Over time, I’ve realized there are things I must do each day and each week to help me survive.
Among the most helpful are my personal Bible study, prayer, and Christian fellowship. The time I spend with Debbie, our children, and our grandson is precious to me. Long walks, when I can take them, refresh me and fulfill the need I’ve always had to be physically active. Meeting with my therapist, writing, and listening to music are very beneficial as well.