I had a hard time calling myself a cancer patient when I was first diagnosed and through most of my treatment. I mostly referred to myself as Cancer Girl. Like, “no one wants to sit next to Cancer Girl on the train.” And “You can’t take the last brownie – I’m the Cancer Girl.” It was so hard to say the word cancer out loud, that I sort of mocked it for a while. I do think it helped me cope and become more comfortable saying it. When I completed treatment, I even took a trip, which I referred to as my ‘Cancer-cation.’ I thought I earned it.
I remember in the weeks where I was very first diagnosed and wasn’t sure yet what my treatment plan might be, I was hoping I would be able to avoid chemo (I didn’t) and I told my friends that I was hoping I had ‘Cancer Lite’ instead of cancer. Again, making light of my situation made the words easier to say and the meaning easier to digest. The shock and fear I felt were too difficult to put into the proper words at that time.
I am still amazed by how the word cancer affects me, and my loved ones. I was on vacation last week with my husband on Martha’s Vineyard and we had a glorious week. One night, I was in the bathroom putting on makeup and my husband was sitting on the bed in our hotel room watching TV and one of those commercials for Cancer Centers of America came on. I was listening to it (I practically have every word memorized) and then I noticed my husband changed the channel. I asked him why he changed it and it was clear he thought I didn’t need to hear the commercial and that it might upset me.
I think he just didn’t want me to be reminded of my cancer on our vacation. This was a reminder for me of how difficult it sometimes still is for my family to remember what I went through. I actually avoid saying the word cancer out loud in front of my dad because I still notice the slight flinch. I have never known another word to hold such power over my life.
It’s a lot easier to use the word Survivor. I know I’m lucky I can.