The word “survivor” means something different to each of the 14.5 million cancer survivors in the United States. Some believe a cancer survivor is considered a survivor at the first diagnosis. Others may consider a survivor to be one as soon as treatment ends. Those living with terminal cancer may never see themselves as a survivor. You could consider yourself a warrior, a fighter, or a winner. The term survivor is just semantics when it comes to survivorship.
Numerous doctors and patients describe three stages of cancer survivorship: Those living with cancer, living through cancer, and living beyond cancer.
Living with cancer
Living with cancer is one of the hardest stages. You start this stage as soon as you are diagnosed. You begin treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Seeing your doctors on a regular basis has become the norm. You have to deal with the physical and emotional demands living with cancer creates.
Living through cancer
This stage refers to the time immediately after treatment for cancer; also known as the transitional phase. During this time, many survivors struggle with finding their “new normal”. Some may feel that their cancer changed them – their personality, their outlook on life, their healthier lifestyle. They may be fearful of their cancer returning. Survivors see their doctors less frequently than the previous stage to do what could be called “surveillance care”.
Living beyond cancer
Years after cancer treatments, you can find yourself living beyond cancer. You enter into the long-term survival stage. During this stage, you will find yourself feeling normal again, or as close to it as possible. There may still be some continual issues (physical and emotional) from your cancer treatments that may never go away, but you learn how to deal with them in your every day life. You will see your oncologist less and rely more on your primary care provider for your health concerns.
It does not matter whether you call yourself a fighter, warrior, or survivor. You may reject all labels – that is a personal choice. No matter what stage of cancer you find yourself in, it is important to always be looking forward. Find that “new normal” and make it work. Whatever you do, always continue to fight.
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