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  • Writer's pictureBurt Rosen

Words matter

Guess what June 4th is? It's National Cancer Survivors Day according to the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship.

Guess what I don't like to call myself? A cancer survivor.

Why don't I like to call myself that? For one, I have cancer. A survivor is defined as someone who's gone through something and comes out the other side. While my cancer is treatable, it's pretty much not curable, which technically means I will never be a survivor.

But, also, what if someone doesn't survive (or chooses not to)? It almost feels like there's some judgment in there. Most people with cancer will do anything they can to overcome it and live happy and even better lives, whether they are living with it or are "cured". But if you don't survive it (or if you don't want to survive it) are you a failure? I feel like people will question if you did everything you could to survive. "Survivor" can be a loaded term in the community of people who have cancer.

Here are some other terms I don't really like. And then I will get into the ones I do.

  • cancer warrior - I am not at war with my cancer. Like it or not, my cancer is a part of me and I will never be at war with myself

  • cancer patient - this one is my soap box. My cancer does not define me or who I am, my burtness does. I am Burt who happens to have cancer

  • Healthcare/Patient Advocate - I use this term but not really sure if I like it. I am really a Burt Advocate or a People Like Burt Advocate. We all think differently, have different needs, and need advocating in different ways. I always have a problem with generic labels, and although the Healthcare/Patient Advocate falls into the generic category, it's pretty accepted and people get it. I also feel like it doesn't carry any judgement or negative connotations.

So what do I like? I like individualized things and things with personality. So as discussed above, Burt who happens to have cancer is fine. My two new faves, that are generic but at least have attitude are:

  • cancer badass (huge shout out to my new BFF Bethany Joy who brought this one to my attention)

  • cancer beast - I made it up but kind of like it. To me, it means that I am dealing with it, I am stronger than my setbacks, I will use it to my advantage, and I will thrive with it. I kind of like that one

Both don't imply anything other than the fact that you are playing the hand you were dealt and playing it to the best of your abilities.

So I guess I will just leave you with this thought. Always think about the individual, who they are, and what their personalities are like, and use terms that reflect them. Generic labels of any sort can be too generalized (yes, that's redundant with generic) and can actually backfire. Everyone wants to be a person and to potentially be a part of a group. I'm not sure that the opposite is true.

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