Why I am not a "survivor"
Introduction: I posted this to a prostate cancer list on 4/28/00 under this title. It was prompted by another I had just sent a few minutes earlier about the "Church of Cancer."
About 5-6 years ago, I covered a cancer fair for a
Southern California paper. There were booths and
displays and a 5k race for "cancer survivors." Most of
the girls wore pink hats.
I interviewed a lot of people for the story, many more
than I needed. I guess because I was especially
touched by their stories.
Back at the paper, I convinced the editor to let me do
a "reporter's notebook," what we call sort of the
story-behind-the-story. I wrote the piece about the
fair and turned it in. It was a few hundred words. But
then I sat down wrote the notebook about my reaction
to the fair, an otherwise forbidden first-person
account of how I felt as I moved through this
assembly, including small balding kids. It was maybe a
couple of thousand words. Frankly, I still think it
was the best piece I've ever written in my career. I
still cry when I read it. (I'll be putting it on my
That was where I learned about "survivors." The people
there talked about being a "survivor" and the first
girl to come across the finish line in the 5k raised
her pink hat and called, "Survivor!" It was a moment I
included in the story, along with a photo of her.
I didn't really run into the word much until my own
Dx [diagnosis], when I began to read about PCa. Person after
person called themselves "survivors" and I realized that
I was now a member of some exclusive club. But as much
as I admired the people back at that fair and then the
stories that I read, I couldn't call myself one, even
when the treatment laid me out.
The first couple of months into treatment, it was
hell. There was one time when I collapsed onto the
kitchen floor, completely devastated, wanting to die
because whatever the cancer had not taken, the
treatment had. I laid there on a cold linoleum
floor, curled into myself, crying my lungs out because
my life was gone.
Later, I pulled myself off the floor stumbled out for
some air. That was a bad one. It was the worst. No one
should go through this crap alone. That was when I
came up with the idea of the web site, Phoenix5. (That
story will be on the site too.)
So yeah, I've been through a lot but as much as it
was, there are men whose stories I've collected that
whose experiences are beyond my comprehension. The
Beast knocks them down and they climb back up. These
are real fights, and to the death of the cancer or the
One day in one of the pieces I was collecting for the
site, I read a remark by a guy who said how he
resented being called a "survivor" because it implied
he was hanging in there. That was all he said and it
started me thinking.
Starving children are surviving in poverty-stricken
countries. A lot of poor people in the US are
surviving on minimal wages and food and quite often
welfare. People survived the Holocaust.
And I imagined, what would I think if a friend moved
to a new city and called me later and when I asked how
they were doing, they said, "I'm surviving." Would it
make be confident or worried? Would I reply, "That's
great!" or would I ask what the problem was? I think
the answer is obvious.
And that was when I realized why I am not a
"survivor." If someone else considers themselves one,
so be it. Even when I was on the kitchen floor, I
wasn't. I may have given up or I may have fought, but
I wasn't "surviving."
Ask that fighter in the ring who is catching blows and
delivering them if he is a survivor. He'll wonder what
you are asking. Did he survive that 5th round? Yeah.
"No, are you a survivor?" No way, lady.
Maybe I was in the early stage. Maybe we all are. But
for me, that is behind me. I am not a "survivor" and
never will be. If you find me on oxygen in a hospice,
don't insult me by calling me a "survivor." I will
fight this beast until the last round. I will win or I
will lose. But I will not "survive." That is what one
gets through to move on to living and doing other
So what am I, someone might ask, if I am not a
"survivor"? Well, besides being an irreverent SOB, I'm
just a guy with Stage D cancer who thinks cancer
stinks as a lifestyle choice. As WC Fields said on his
tombstone, "I'd rather be in Philadelphia."
But why do we need to be something else? Is it the
nature of this Beast that we need a cohesive rallying
cry? Perhaps and to that degree, it is valuable. But
let's not assume it applies to all. And let's not
assume that if some of us reject the norm that we are
not there with you every step of the way. I just do
mine a bit differently.
Meanwhile, I'll cry with you. Yeah, I know what it is
like to have the crap scared out of you. Yeah, I'll do
what I can and give you room and give you a hand and
if you want to be a survivor, good. Be one. But you
might find when you get your wind back and your
dignity that maybe you have moved on.
That's why I am not a "survivor."
I never looked good in pink.
[Footnote: The article about the cancer fair is at this site.]