Don’t Call Me A Survivor

10 years ago my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She beat the disease and returned to leading an  active life.   During one of the annual  breast cancer walks to raise money for research, she, my sister and I walked over to the tent set up to honor those women that were survivors.  Mom made mention in passing that she didn’t like being called a survivor but really did not explain her reasons. Just that she didn’t care for the term.

Recently many of my friends have wrapped me in love with wonderfully supportive emails as I am going through this divorce mess.  Many of them have known me a long time and are aware of the many struggles and trials that I’ve encountered in my life and know of the many breaks and scars in my heart.  I’ve not had an easy life and admittedly some of the struggles were consequences of bad choices I had made, though many were just fate.  The emails all carry  encouragement and many have said “we know you, you are a survivor and will make it through this”.    Reading through these emails has caused me to understand why mom does not care for the term ‘survivor’.

In my opinion that word, survivor, is very passive and implies helplessness.   We survive a car accident or a plane crash, things that happen fast and sudden and for which there is not ability to really react to the circumstances.  Strapped in the seat of car, when the other vehicle crosses the center line we either survive the impact or we don’t.   Similar to an airplane  crash you either survive or you don’t.  Cancer on the other hand, while it may indeed kill the patient, usually involves a fight to live.  Chemo, better eating, medications all combine with the efforts of the patient to win a battle, they are actively fighting for their life.  They don’t survive cancer, they fight and beat it, they are in a war.

I don’t see overcoming the difficulties in my  life as a matter of surviving.  I fought battles that were both mental and emotional, even a few physical,  with determination and a lot of hard work and I won.  Sometimes the outcome was that I lost something but then no matter which side wins the war it is never without cost to the winner as well.  I carry within me a lot of scars from those battles in my life but the fact that I land on my feet eventually after fighting through the hardships, actively pursuing the end, to me means I won.  There is nothing passive about the journey through the dark valleys in my life, I don’t curl up in a ball and hope it ends well. I plan, act and work through it.  I fight my way through it and emerge on the other side.   I don’t survive, I fight to win.

No offense to those that  reach out during the time of need.   Encourage me please, keep letting me know you are there and supporting me, I very much appreciate and need it.  But please, don’t call me a survivor.


  1. Well put and I could not agree more. As a woman who fought the CA war and emerged better for it, that struck me. I, too have never liked the term “survivor” but could never articulate why. You just did. Thank you.

    Keep your best game face on and continue to “fight the good fight”.


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