Sunday, May 8, 2016

Am I a cancer survivor?

This coming weekend I will be participating in the Bridge Walk for the Living Well Cancer Resource Center in Geneva, IL. I have been intending to walk in this fundraiser since I learned about it last summer, but I have been dragging my heels on actually registering. I have visited the registration page numerous times. It asks for relevant information such as name, e-mail address, etc. It also asks what type of participant you are: adult, child, student, or cancer survivor. Clearly, I am not a child (or a student), but the question I have grappled with for the past year and a half (give or take) stalls my progress to the next page of registration. 

The type of tumor I had is considered a malignancy (cancer), but in the absence of metastases (spread), it behaved in quite the benign (not cancerous) fashion. Surgically curable, or so they say. So far, so good. Does this give me the right to consider myself a cancer survivor? I doubt anyone would call me out on it if I checked this box. "No, Cori, you only had a neoplasm, not a carcinoma." According to the title of this article about my experience, I am a pancreatic cancer survivor: "Attentiveness saved mom's life from pancreatic cancer." Wow. That's still hard to read. 

The aforementioned evidence suggests I should check the "cancer survivor" box. But still I hesitate. Sure, I had an 11 hour surgery and a 2 week hospital stay. Sure, I had a giant tumor. Sure, I see an oncologist. But I don't feel like a cancer survivor. I didn't undergo chemotherapy. The surgery produced "clear margins" and revealed no lymph node involvement. I did not have adenocarcinoma (the Patrick Swayze pancreatic cancer). I did not have a neuroendocrine cancer (the Steve Jobs pancreatic cancer). I had an especially rare tumor with an "excellent prognosis." I got super unlucky (when I say especially rare, I mean super especially rare). But at the same time, I got super lucky. I got the "good" pancreatic tumor. The one that rarely returns, the one that very rarely causes death. My surgery was awful, there is no way to sugarcoat that, but the bulk of my medical journey began and ended during my hospital stay. The lingering effects of my illness seem to have more to do with the surgery itself and very little to do with having had a large pancreatic tumor. I'll own up to being a survivor, but aren't we all? Add "cancer" to the description of survivor, and suddenly I'm not sure I agree. 

I am sure I will be participating in the walk this Saturday. If you're local, I'd love it if you'd join me: Register here. If you don't want to walk but you'd like to donate: Donate here. If you'd like to buy some fabulous Origami Owl jewelry and have 10% of your purchase price donated to Living Well: Shop here. Your well wishes and happy thoughts are also appreciated. Thank you for reading! 

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