Today, the first Sunday of June, is National Cancer Survivors Day, an annual, worldwide celebration of life set aside to honour the millions of people worldwide who are living with and beyond cancer and to raise awareness of the challenges that they face.
Major advances in cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment have resulted in longer survival, but a cancer diagnosis can leave a host of problems in its wake. Physical, financial, and emotional hardships often persist for years after diagnosis and treatment. Depending on where they live, survivors often contend with rapidly rising drug costs, inadequate insurance coverage, difficulty finding or keeping employment, and a lack of understanding from family and friends. Despite these difficulties, cancer survivors can live active, productive, inspiring lives.
So what is a survivor? To many, the term ‘cancer survivor’ suggests a person who has beaten their cancer; perhaps one who has been cancer free for several years, but I like the definition used by the National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation. “A ‘survivor’ is anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life.”
In other words, I am a survivor! In fact, I’m a three times survivor.
I live with cancer every day. Unless a cure is found for neuroendocrine cancer (NETS) within my lifetime or God performs a miracle on my behalf, I will never be cancer free. People have a hard time grasping the idea of a chronic cancer. The usual assumption is that patients either die of their disease or they are cured, thereby becoming cancer survivors, but I look at my situation differently. I may eventually die of my cancer or I may die with it, but either way, I am a survivor! Fortunately my NETS is stable at this point and it doesn’t significantly impact my day to day life. I’ve had all the PRRT treatments that I can have, but a monthly injection given here in my home by a visiting nurse seems to be keeping things under control. I had my 87th of these “butt darts” just over a week ago.
I’m also a cancer survivor in the more tradition sense, as in one who had the disease, but is now free of it. As many of you know, seven months after my NETS diagnosis, I was diagnosed with a second, completely unrelated cancer that was removed surgically. Six weeks of radiation followed and, since that time, there has been no recurrence.
Cancer number three, most likely caused by the radiation that I received for the other two, was discovered in my thyroid almost exactly a year ago. Though it’s not a particularly aggressive form of cancer, it’s the one that concerns me the most right now. I was supposed to see my specialist two months ago and have an ultrasound to determine whether or not the cancer is growing. Thanks to Covid-19, that didn’t happen and it’s been eight months since my thyroid was last looked at. Though my specialist still isn’t seeing patients except in emergency situations, I decided to do a bit of self-advocating and his office is now in the process of trying to arrange for me to have an ultrasound done in a hospital closer to home in a small city that has only had one Covid-19 patient.
Yes, in spite of all this, I am a survivor! Survivors are people from all walks of life, of all ethnicities and income levels. They’re children, moms, dads, and grandparents. They may be your coworkers, friends, and loved ones. Traditionally, National Cancer Survivors Day celebrations have included parades, carnivals, health fairs, awareness walks, candle-lighting ceremonies, and other community events. This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the celebrations may be somewhat more subdued, but life with and after cancer goes on and it ought to be about more than just surviving. It ought to be about living well and that’s always something to celebrate!