What are you when you stop being a patient?

You were diagnosed. Then you became a cancer patient. But then you went through treatment and came out the other side. So what are you now?

The words you use about yourself can make a big difference to how you feel. I remember feeling like cancer was a failure and being somewhat embarrassed that I’d suffered from it. My daughter said: ‘but you’re a survivor. You’re amazing!’ Her words and shift of perspective had a big impact on me. I wasn’t suffering from cancer, I’d survived it. It seemed an achievement rather than a reason for shame.

But then I officially stopped suffering from cancer. I’d had surgery. There was no spread. It was just being monitored. Of course I was still suffering from the after effects of cancer, but I hopefully didn’t have it any more.

‘Am I cancer survivor?’ I thought.

I still don’t feel like a survivor, because I’m still wondering if it will come back and dealing with the emotional aftermath of cancer. I started to think that cancer was now just a fact of my life and, although it didn’t have to rule me, neither was it going to go away. Instead, when I describe myself I say that I’m a cancer person.

Personhood became important to me during my diagnosis and treatment. I didn’t want to be an anonymous patient or a piece of meat to be carved up. I was still a person and wanted to be one. I remember saying: ‘I’m not a patient, I’m a person’. So for me, that label feels right.

I also like to acknowledge that cancer isn’t over when the surgery is done or the chemo is finished. It takes a long time to put the person back together. That’s why I like to talk about ‘living with cancer’ rather than ‘suffering’ from it or ‘surviving’ it.

What words do you like to use and why?


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