This past Sunday was National Cancer Survivor’s Day— a holiday to celebrate survivors and remind them and their caregivers that there really is life after a cancer diagnosis.
So when do you know that you or your loved one is a cancer survivor? When the scan comes back clear? When the tumor marker is normal? When the treatment is finished? When there’s no evidence of any cancer?
I was diagnosed June 26, 1990, with Stage 3 colon cancer. I still am cancer-free and count myself as a very blessed survivor. But even if the cancer had returned, I would still count myself as a survivor because I agree with the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship when it labels cancer patients as survivors “from the moment of diagnosis and for the balance of life.”
I didn’t always think that way.
I used to think that you if you lived five years cancer-free after a diagnosis you were a cured cancer survivor.
I remember going in for my five-year oncology checkup in the summer of 1995 (before I started working in Marc’s office) and gleefully announcing to Marc that I wouldn’t be seeing him professionally anymore. (I’m not quite sure how I got that notion, but I hear many others say the same kind of thing. We’ve probably made that association because statisticians often give data on five-year survival rates for different types of cancer.)
“Where did you get that idea?” Marc responded.
It’s five years; I’m cured!” I told him; surprised that he didn’t realize it was such a momentous day.
“Well, the chance the cancer will return has diminished greatly, but you still need to be checked for the rest of your life,” Marc soberly explained.
Talk about bursting someone’s bubble!
I waited five years to be proclaimed a survivor and there was going to be no such official announcement.
Thankfully, a short time after that day I read the above-mentioned survivorship definition from the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship and proclaimed myself a survivor.
So I hope you’re not waiting for some mythical five-year mark to earn the label of cancer survivor. Anyone who has survived even one minute since diagnosis already is a survivor! Believe it!
Before I retired in 2015, I loved watching and listening to those survivors in my support group who had medically incurable cancer, but still found much happiness. Because of their circumstances others might say these folks have the right to be fairly fearful. But these “incurable” survivors have come to realize—as have those of us who are cured—that we don’t need the right circumstances to be happy, but we do need to believe the right things about our circumstances to be happy.
It’s important what you believe about yourself and your loved ones. When I finished treatment for my cancer, the odds the cancer would come back were greater than the odds it wouldn’t. That doesn’t sound like a situation that would make a person very happy. But what I believed about my circumstances did give me joy.
I believed the truth that I was already a cancer survivor.
For as he thinks within himself, so he is. Proverbs 23:17
And I believed the truth that nothing, including cancer and its treatment, can diminish God’s great love for me.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today or our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. Romans 8:38
I also believed the truth that God didn’t need good odds to heal me, that there are people everywhere surviving despite their odds.
For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37
You and your loved ones have survived a cancer diagnosis. God obviously has plans for your life or you wouldn’t still be here. Ask Him to shine His light on your path and then don’t be afraid to follow where He leads.
Will you pray from Psalm 119 with me? Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path. I’ve promised it once, and I’ll promise it again: I will obey your wonderful laws. I have suffered much, o LORD, restore my life again as you promised. Amen.
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