Surviving cancer is a bit like being a Girl Scout, where you earn lots of badges of honor for your hard work, commitment, and perseverance. Instead of a green vest, your body wears the honors of scars from procedures and infinite blood draws. The hard work of survival starts not during your time as a Brownie, but during your time as a patient, where you shuffle yourself to appointment after appointment. You pass your days not sitting with your troop friends, but with the nurses that give you chemotherapy each week, with whom you develop a special bond very quickly. The perseverance comes and goes, like the school age friendships that can fall apart because of a squabble on the playground. Hopefully it comes more than it goes, with the belief that this too shall pass and that tomorrow WILL come.
There are no songs around a campfire as a cancer patient. But there are songs. The songs that you sing to yourself as your body goes through the CT scan, or the songs of prayer that you sing each time you sit in the chemotherapy chair for a round of treatment.
Being a survivor makes you part of a very special cohort of people. It gives you membership to a group that understands what it feels like to worry when you have a cold or a non specific symptom that no one can really explain. It joins you with the others like you, who wonder, if the words of the doctors that explained about the probability of a second line cancer down the road, will become reality.
Being a survivor also makes you part of a group that feels the bittersweet taste of remembrance for those that did not survive. Those that fought harder than anyone could imagine, and yet, were taken because of their cancer. We celebrate our lives knowing that not everyone had that same opportunity. It is with a heavy heart that we wear the badge of surviving, knowing that those we loved were lost.
Being a survivor makes you take stock. Being a survivor gives you new insights. Being a survivor helps you see the silver lining in things that otherwise look dismal and gray. Being a survivor means living each day in appreciation, knowing that others did not have the same chance.
So no, there is no vest, or sash for all my badges of honor as a 14 year cancer survivor. My body is my vest, my sash, and waking up each day to see the flowers bloom in my garden, or to hear my daughter’s laughter is all the reminder I need to celebrate.
June 3rd is National Cancer Survivor’s Day. I wish that I could celebrate this day with a very special woman and friend that in my mind, was the epitome of a survivor. But since I can’t, since we can’t–I hope we will all do our parts to advocate for a world with More Birthdays and less Inflammatory Breast Cancer.