Saturday, October 09, 2010

Words, part II

At the risk of more anonymous people telling me I'm ignorant, I have to say that I don't like the word "survivor" when applied to people who have had cancer. I know that so many people love the word and define themselves as survivors and all that, but I don't like it. I have a hard time articulating why I feel this way but I found an article that explains my feelings quite well: Who's a Survivor on

This phrase from the article succinctly describes my thoughts:
At a deeper level, what's wrong is that the expression connotes strength or heroism. Today, survivor feeds into the concept of cancer as some sort of contest of harsh ordeals. Best sellers like Dr. David Servan-Schreiber's Anticancer: A New Way of Life push the impression that survival implies you've done something right. The fault's in the converse: If you don't lick your tumor, you've failed.

Personally, I think our culture is to blame for the rise in the idea of survivorship as it relates to illness. In our reality-tv, celebrity-obsessed, 15-minutes-of-fame, success-oriented culture, people want to succeed, to be noticed, to be set apart; to be seen as doing something extra-ordinary in their lives and to succeed in doing it. Who doesn't want fame and fortune, after all?

Even if we weren't living in this culture, being a cancer survivor would still be empowering for many people because the words imply that they've beaten their cancer or fought it down. Taking the credit for defeating the cancer means that the person is at fault if the cancer comes back. That's not reasonable or fair.

Is there a better word than survivor? One that is empowering but that doesn't carry the same responsibility for keeping the person alive?


Robin said...

Let me start the comments section by saying I agree with you completely!

And no, I can't think of any words off the top of my head to describe having cancer and so far outliving it. Wish I could, though as I don't like the term 'survivor' either.

manchester fat acceptance said...


sorry, i can't think of a word either! probably why the word 'survivor' was first applied.