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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.

statue of tang dynasty warrior 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 web site.)

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 man.

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 things.

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.

Robert Young
Cincinnati Ohio

[Footnote: The article about the cancer fair is at this site.]

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This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not replace or amend professional medical advice. Unless otherwise stated and credited, the content of Phoenix5 (P5) is by and the opinion of and copyright © 2000 Robert Vaughn Young. All Rights Reserved. P5 is at <>. P5's policy regarding privacy and right to reprint are at <>.