Once, at a social gathering, the host introduced a friend of hers to me and referred to her as a ‘Cancer Patient.’
I could see that being referred to in this manner made the woman uncomfortable. However, she seemed to know that the host didn’t mean to offend her. She took it lightly and said jokingly to me, “Cancer patient has become my new identity, Doctor!”
“Well, in truth, you are a cancer survivor and not a patient,” I said.
“Oh,” she said and laughed again, “That sounds way better!”
“Yet, both of these aren’t your true identity,” I went on.
“Exactly Doctor! I am a complete person by myself. The cancer experience has certainly transformed me in many positive ways but I don’t really see it as my identity” she said with conviction in her voice.
The National Cancer Institute, USA, defines a ‘survivor‘ as one who remains alive and continues to function during and after overcoming a serious hardship or life-threatening disease. In cancer, a person is considered to be a survivor from the time of diagnosis until the end of life.
The term ‘Cancer Survivor’ is a more sensitive way of referring to someone dealing with cancer. It sees the individual as more than a patient dealing with illness – it acknowledges the personal transformation he or she may have had as a result of battling a difficult disease and the complex treatments it often requires. Read this article on ‘Finding Happiness In Cancer‘.
While some people take great pride in viewing themselves as cancer survivors, others do not wish to have any such identity. They see cancer as just one aspect of their life and not as who they are.
Even while referring to someone in the context of their cancer diagnosis, the term ‘Cancer Survivor’ is a more sensitive term as compared to ‘Cancer Patient.’