Today marks my 30th celebration of National Cancer Survivors Day. A cancer survivor is recognized by most agencies, not just someone who has beaten cancer, rather, no matter what stage a person is in, from diagnosis to treatment as well. From the moment you hear the shocking words, “you have cancer,” you are immediately put into a survivor mode, to take on this horrible beast.
From the moment I was diagnosed, I needed more than just to hear, “we can treat this” or even “we can cure this.” I wanted proof that I could live the life I was expecting to live before cancer, at that immediate point, I had only been thinking of longevity, not quality.
Almost every cancer patient hears two different statistics. The first, the percentage of survival rates and succession of remission. The other, a 5-year milestone that nearly all of us are told, this is when we are considered “in remission,” or many of us might even consider ourselves “cured,” though doctors really do not like to ever use the word “cured.” And though discrimination is illegal, at one time, just decades ago, that 5-year mark was often used as a factor in approving for employment, insurance, and many other needs and events in life.
But I needed more than just hearing that Hodgkin’s Lymphoma carried one of the better success rates of survival, at that time, thirty years ago, 85%, today, well over 90%. I wanted to know or meet others who had survived a long time. An uncle told me of a friend he had that had survived, and was still living more than three decades. Carl Nelson, a football player for the New York Giants was also a survivor of Hodgkin’s. But this was not good enough. I was never going to meet these people. I needed to see with my own eyes.
Over the years, I would get the opportunity to do that and more. With the help of the internet, and various support groups, I would eventually meet survivors of all lengths of longevity, FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD!
This snapshot above, was just posted yesterday on my Facebook feed. One of my fellow survivors just hit his fifty year mark. As the years have gone by, I have not gotten to see many posts like that. Most of them are all patients either freshly completing treatment, or within their first or second decade of survivorship. I was aware of many who had survived longer than me, even one as long as 70 years (his screen name was “stillkickin”).
But my friend who posted this great announcement, has gotten so many replies from others who are well into their 30’s and 40’s as far as survivors, more than I had ever seen before. So, yes, even someone like me, almost thirty years out, can still be inspired by someone else’s survivorship. I could only wish that others had the ability to see this amazing post.
But this day is always bittersweet for us, just as our anniversaries. While I cannot speak for other cancers, for those of us who were treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, especially decades ago, many of deal with late effects caused from the treatments that saved our lives, treatments that had never been studied for long term effects, because we were not expected to live longer than five years according to that marker.
And then of course, there are those, that we said goodbye to, having either passed away directly to their cancer, or the side effects of the treatments. In my family, I am the only survivor out of six in my family still alive from their cancer. And I have said goodbye to too many friends, young and old, cancer does not discriminate.
But if there is one thing I do believe, even those that have passed on, would not want us to be sad on this day, a day to celebrate surviving cancer. And no matter how long from the diagnosis, every day after that, is a day you have survived, and lived your life.
So, let the people in your life that you know have faced cancer, that you are glad to be able to wish them, “Happy National Cancer Survivors Day.”