Being called a survivor is empowering. It gives me the feeling of conquering something grand and significant. I often use this word to describe myself and my fellow lung cancer patients. However, each time I use it, I cannot help but have doubts in my mind: am I really a cancer survivor? I’m still in active treatment, seeing doctors regularly, and being monitored with regularly scheduled CT, MRI scans and blood work. I have not, and will not ever be “cancer free”. When I die, whether it is tomorrow, next week or in a few years, can I still claim I am a cancer survivor today?
Most people associate cancer survivor with someone who is now cancer free. They were diagnosed with cancer, underwent treatment and were ‘cured’ of the disease. Unfortunately, this is not the story of most cancer patients. As you know, I was diagnosed with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) in 2015. However, for me, this was not diagnosed based on any lung symptoms. I never had a cough, chest pain or shortness of breath. Instead, I first found out I had cancer from a head CT scan showing multiple metastatic lesions. This automatically places me in stage IV cancer. I was never given the chance for a cure. For me, targeted therapy is a life saver, but it’s an inhibiter not a cure, my treatment is aimed at disease management. I will, in all likelihood, never be cancer free.
But I am a survivor.
According to Mariam-Webster dictionary, survive means to live on, or to continue to function and prosper. In Chinese, we have a similar word to survivor-幸存者，direct translation is the person who is lucky or fortunate to live on. Nowhere does it say that a survivor must be disease free.
After I got cancer, I have really grasped on to the word-survivor. With targeted therapy and other modern and interdisciplinary medicine, we not only live on, but are given the chance to prosper despite our condition. After my gamma knife radiation therapy for the metastatic tumors in my brain, I was left hemiplegic: this means I could not move the right side of my body. Despite all this, with the help of my medical team, rehabilitation team and my family, I can walk independently at least 5km every day, cook meals, clean the house, travel, do most of things people do, i.e., I have been able to live on, function and prosper. Although I may not be cancer free, according to the dictionary, I am a survivor.