I'm A Survivor?

Survivor. What a beautiful, powerful, strong word. The word ‘survivor’ to me has always made me think of someone who has overcome a serious illness. I participated in a Race for the Cure several years ago, and I still remember very clearly how moving and beautiful the Pink Parade for Survivors was. Those are true survivors, and they deserved to be celebrated. But as far as me being a survivor when I've had skin cancer? That, I have a hard time comprehending.

Skin cancer survivors

I am a survivor. I am a survivor. I can say it over and over, but why doesn’t it register with me? Why, because I have skin cancer instead of another type of cancer, do I have difficulty with thinking of myself as a survivor? I have never questioned whether people who have had other types of cancer are considered survivors. I’ve referred to them as ‘survivors.’

Then why did I balk when someone said I would be wearing a Survivor shirt when I gave a speech at the opening ceremony of a Relay for Life? When I was asked my shirt size so a Survivor shirt could be ordered for me, I protested. I said I didn’t need a shirt because I didn’t consider myself a survivor. I even felt as if I shouldn’t participate in the Survivor Lap during the ceremony.

Some of the other participants had gone through so much more than I had; I haven’t had to have chemotherapy or radiation. The treatment I had gone through paled in comparison with treatment other people experience. They should be participating in the Survivor lap. I, on the other hand, felt like an imposter. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be a part of the Survivor lap, much less leading it.

Skin cancer recurrence

You may be getting the idea that “survivor” is not a word I would think of to describe me, and you would be correct. I have had skin cancer for over twenty years, and I will most likely continue to have skin cancer for the rest of my life. I won’t ever have a ‘remission’ phase. I will have new skin cancer areas appear; I will have them removed and biopsied; I will then continue to watch my skin for any new areas that may appear. Wash, rinse, repeat....there is no remission phase as with other types of cancers. There will never be a day that I can say I no longer have skin cancer.

Definition of survivor

Merriam-Webster defines a survivor as “a person who continues to live after an accident, illness, war, etc.” Guess what that means? It means that I am a survivor! I have survived skin cancer for the 22+ years that I have had it. I’m still here, and I’ll continue battling skin cancer with every new spot that appears. That does make me a survivor. And that makes you a survivor if you have or have had skin cancer.

Your cancer is not “less than” another type of skin cancer. (Yes, I’m preaching to the choir on this one too; I have to admit at times that I feel that skin cancer is not as much ‘cancer’ as other types of cancers, and I have been told “it’s only skin cancer; it is not a big deal.” But that’s a story for another time....)

I am a survivor. You are a survivor. And this is something that is definitely worth celebrating. I think I need to get my “Survivor” shirt out of the drawer and wear it proudly.

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