This is a question we get a lot.
What is cancer survivorship? How does one survive cancer? Can one survive cancer?
Typically, many people associate survivorship with being cancer-free. And yet for some, being cancer-free is not a typical endpoint, as their cancer cannot be cured, only managed. And with the fear of recurrence on the back of every cancer patient’s mind, does not being cancer-free take away from your survivorship? Some believe that you are a survivor the moment you have been diagnosed with cancer. This definition may ring hollow, as how can one survive their cancer the moment they find out they have it? Perhaps this represents a strong determination to survive cancer, or a reflection of the fact that many or most people do survive the cancer in question.
Typically, we look at the five-year survival rate. But sometimes people who are considered a survivor even though they are still undergoing treatment five years after they were diagnosed. Many patients who have metastatic or stage 4 cancer are surviving, sometimes for years. It is no longer an oxymoron to hear the words “metastatic” and “survivor” in the same sentence together.
In reality, survivorship encompasses many of these differing definitions, and likely more. We ascribe to the three-phase model. A survivor begins as an acute survivor, which lasts from diagnosis and throughout treatment. Then extended survivorship begins, which focuses on post-treatment issues. Finally, permanent survivorship is for those who have gone years without cancer treatment and recurrence seems unlikely.
Of course, survivorship comes with its own issues. From side effects caused by the cancer itself and from treatment to loss of quality of life to the financial burdens associated with cancer care, some people may truly wonder if they’ve survived or simply transitioned to yet another challenge. With some people considering medically assisted dying (MAID) around issues of poverty, side effects like pain, family breakdown, can we consider these people survivors? And if not, how do we provide the support these people need to become survivors?
And so we are asking for your input. What is a cancer survivor to you? Email us your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will showcase as many answers as we can. Deadline for submissions is September 15th.