You Had It or You Are It?

OK. I had cancer. So, now what? Do you view me as a ‘cancer survivor?’ Probably. Did that change anything in your perception of me? Almost certainly. I don’t know how the term got started. Did someone who had been through treatment one day jump up and say “Yay, I’m alive! I’m a survivor!’ And so it began? Perhaps.

More likely it’s a label that was created by those who did not have the experience but wanted to show respect to those who had gotten The Diagnosis and didn’t die. I appreciate the underlying ‘Hat’s off!’ that I believe most people intend when they use the term. There’s probably also a bit of ‘Super! — another win for the good guys! (Translation: If that were ever me or someone I love, I’ve got a good memory to bring up to bat.)

I’m not suggesting you look and I’m not going to either, buuut… if we were to look through years of blogging I’m not sure you would find even one post where I mention my journey through breast cancer. It’s not that I hide it. And it’s surely not that I haven’t written about it! During treatment I journaled a good single-spaced 200 pages. About a year or so later I wrote a book about going through crisis (the e-book is “ABC’s for the Hard Times: a crisis survival handbook) and in addition to stories of my hypnotherapy clients I refer to my stage 3 diagnosis and some of the ways I coped.

But right here for now, I want to get back to two thoughts  — one is where I asked if reading that I had cancer changed your perception of me and the other is the term ‘label.’ (Never before noticed if you switch an’ i’ for the ‘a ‘you’ve got libel. OK, that’s really beside the point…) A caveat before proceeding: I know that not everyone who has been through cancer feels the way I do — I suspect it’s pretty well divided actually. But in any case I speak only of myself.

I’ve survived a lot of things and choose not to label myself with them. Trust me — it barely scratches the suface to mention lousy childhood, mother’s death when I was 12, the world’s worst boss, a motorcycle and a few car accidents… Jeez, it’s quite a long list when I look at it that way. The thing is… I don’t look at it that way. I don’t see my life or myself through a prism of what I have survived. I don’t define myself by my illnesses and accidents any more than I define myself by my weaknesses, anxieties, defeats, or losses.

I prefer as much as possible to leave myself undefined and unlabeled. That doesn’t mean I won’t end up in a box. Or various boxes. I will, and that’s okay. We all do that since humans need to understand, define, refine and categorize the world in which we live. It’s how we think and how we communicate. We carry around something akin to little boxes in which we put the stuff of life. Of course that ‘stuff’ includes people.

It’s okay to categorize. It’s just that I want the label and the box to be one of your choosing — not one that is precut by one  part of my life into which all of me is supposed to fit.  I would much rather that it is by what I am doing now. What I give back. My current beliefs. Not the awards I received, the experiences I garnered, or mistakes I made. I do not want to rest on my illnesses any more than on my laurels.

Well, if I’m so damn set against the label, why am I even discussing this?

Because this time when the topic came up it was with someone who deserved a thoughtful answer. Until yesterday I hadn’t thought about it in a long time.  But there I was on my first Vallarta hike, led by Sylvie through her group L.O.C.A. (Ladies Outdoor Club Adventures). Great fun despite the heat and a nice opportunity to chat with interesting, active women.  The woman who got the wheels turning on this topic is in the medical field and devotes herself to service to others. She reminded me of those I came to think of as angels during my treatments, those who go with strangers into sad, frighteningly dark corners and then go back again and again.

If she or anyone finds help in these thoughts it’s well worth the little jaunt back to place in which I once was.

 

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