Skip to content

The truth is I never felt like a “Survivor”

February 16, 2019

The truth is I never felt brave, badass, or blessed. I never felt like a warrior or a survivor.  To me, “survivor” felt like a word you use when you think you’re going to die, but you don’t.  I never thought I was going to die. Not then anyway…someday, yes, of course.  I was diagnosed, I had two surgeries, I had 4 weeks of radiation and then I moved on. Onward and upward. Whats next?  Let’s do this thing called life.  It was a thing I had gone through, like many other things. It wasn’t pleasant but it wasn’t horrible. It was just a life experience like many others. I wasn’t being brave or pretending it didn’t happen. It just was and now it wasn’t.   I didn’t go to survivor groups, I didn’t talk about my breast cancer unless someone asked. Hell, I even cancelled my health insurance because it was too damn expensive to allow me to have fun doing all the things I wanted to do.  I wasn’t being brave, I had just put it behind me. Or so I thought….

Then, several months ago, the truth of someone who has experienced cancer, began to sneak up on me. Usually, it was at 4am when I rolled onto that breast and it woke me up enough to roll to the other side. Or it was when I bumped myself at work and it hurt more on that side than the other. Or when I was in the shower and could feel discomfort around that breast and under my armpit.  Those niggling thoughts of whether I was still experiencing the effects of radiation or whether there was more going on began to creep in.  I didn’t mention it to anyone. I didn’t really even acknowledge it myself until nearer the end of this past year when I knew I could sign up for health insurance again.  Then I told my partner, my sister, a few friends and family. I really didn’t think it was anything but I needed to have it checked out. And I did. My mammogram came back negative but then, so had my mammogram one month before I began experiencing symptoms the first time around.  So this past week, I visited the lovely caring cancer specialists where I had been previously treated. Just to chat about my symptoms, and other things.

3D model of a breast

I told her, in addition to the symptoms I was having, I hadn’t been as happy these past few months. I have gained weight and wasn’t sleeping very well.  She said, as a breast cancer survivor, I should…..wait, what?  No, that’s not me. I cringed with embarrassment. I didn’t in any way feel like a survivor.  She went on to talk about programs offered to survivors, YMCA free classes and trainings for survivors, etc.  My face was flushed with shame as I didn’t feel any of these things related to me. These were for people who thought they were going to die when they had cancer, and then they lived.

She said, “You know what your problem is?”  No…. I guess I didn’t.  She said, “You haven’t acknowledged your fear, you haven’t dealt with the fact that you had a life-threatening disease and that for the rest of your life you will wonder when or if it will return. You haven’t been above-board with yourself around your cancer or your fear.  And the problem that arises when you don’t do this work, is that you also don’t experience the joy of being cancer free AND….that fear will eventually catch up with you.  It will present itself in your happiness, your weight, your sleeping patterns and more.”  Wow!  Really?  I had to admit she probably was right!  I thought I had moved on, and in many ways I had. I thought I had put it behind me, and in many ways I had. I thought I really wasn’t a cancer survivor because I hadn’t had chemo, I didn’t ( thank goodness) lose a limb, or spend months in the hospital, these things were not part of my cancer story but… I was a survivor, I am a survivor.

I am almost exactly 5 years out from when I first started dealing with doctors around my breast cancer. I am now finally ready to read the books, look at my post cancer food intake, join the YMCA’s LIVESTRONG free 12-week physical activity program designed to help adult cancer survivors…yep, Survivors! 🙂   And I am even going to reconsider the one thing I said “no” to the first time around because, hell, I thought I was perfectly fine the way I was. (God, I sounded smug in that original blog post!)  And, maybe I still am fine the way I am but I will admit this cancer thing has taken a toll on my body and my psyche, and I am going to go chat about fixing some issues that may help me in the long run. I am ready to admit I may have some residual emotional and physical effects from cancer.

And I am so thankful that someone called me on the carpet to be honest with myself. To call my bluff on the fact that I was so far past cancer, I had left it in the dust. To be honest about the fact that at 4am, I am human. A human who has experienced cancer. Better off than some who have and worse off than others.  We can’t judge each other’s experiences going through this or how we deal with it after.  We are all Survivors. And I am thankful for that.



You can find me here:



9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 17, 2019 4:49 am

    This is raw. I understand this post on a very deep level. One cannot truly move on until one acknowledges the elephant in the room. It doesn’t have to be an elephant. BUT, it has to be acknowledged. When I was dealing with chronic, recurrent vertigo from 2010-2012, I remember saying, many times, “I’m not taking chemo and I’m not dying of cancer.” My doctors, from Portland to Boston, all reminded me that what I was going through was a debilitating issue from a chronic disease and we, as a team, needed to get me beyond that. So, to you, my dear friend, I say “Bravo. You cannot run free with the horses on the plains with the wolves nipping at your hooves, so make yourself #1, inside and out, so you can run freely with the horses.” Love you sweet girl.

    • February 17, 2019 8:25 am

      Mary, you make me cry. So well written and so true. Thank you for the insight into your feelings too. Maybe its human nature to not feel we are as bad off as the next person in order for us to allow ourselves to use this as a defense mechanism against the truth. I love you, my sweet dear friend. xo

  2. megnaturescircle permalink
    February 17, 2019 7:47 am

    Beautifully written!! So honest and real-life..

    Sent from my iPhone

    • February 17, 2019 8:26 am

      Thank you so much for your comment. I truly appreciate that. Love to you..

  3. February 17, 2019 3:53 pm

    If we didn’t feel like illness was a sign of personal failing we would all do better dealing with our health. As women we also tend to put everyone else’s wellbeing first, being there to make sure they are fine, while soldiering through for ourselves as quietly as we can. And the cost of healthcare definitely doesn’t help, as the worry about affording it can drag us down even more as we try to make do. We all survive many trials, starting we being safely born, and we tend to figure we either dodged a bullet when we hear of someone being ill or we are expecting the axe to fall on us next.

    • February 18, 2019 7:43 am

      Rebecca, thank you for your thoughts. I do think that as women we are much better at taking care of others than ourselves and therefore, we don’t want to reveal a crack of vulnerability which would make it harder for us to do this. And for me, the healthcare insurance issue has been a big one. If I had had insurance I most likely would have gone to get checked out many months ago and the emotional baggage which have been less. I need to do some more thinking around your comment on illness being a sign of personal failure. I’m not sure I feel that way. I think mine may be more feeling its a sign of weakness. xo

      • February 23, 2019 5:59 pm

        It’s neither a weakness of a sign of failure, sometimes no matter what we do we get sick. Even the tiniest bit of stomach flu can seem like our body let us down! All part of the journey I guess, and for some illness adds a bit more roughness. As far as healthcare, yikes it’s such a roll of the dice. Money out on the chance of getting sick, or money in hand for so many to keep the bills paid. Not a good or proper choice.

  4. Ruth Duffy permalink
    February 17, 2019 5:29 pm

    Thank you for sharing, Nanette. Your story resonates with me more than you can imagine. I have also not wanted to be labeled “a cancer survivor” and have tried to move quickly away from this diagnosis. I have wanted it to be in the rearview mirror, but in fact, it’s been a dark passenger within me, going on 3 years. When I experience tenderness, shooting pain, etc., I tell myself it’s nothing. Because that’s what I want it to be. Meanwhile, I’ve also had insomnia and weight gain. Maybe it’s time for me to also stop looking in the rearview and face what’s within me. Your words and advice are timely. Hugs to you.

  5. February 18, 2019 7:36 am

    Dear Ruth, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Its so interesting to hear from other people who feel this way about calling themselves a cancer survivor. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching, and talking and writing about it these past few days to try and figure out why I feel/felt this way. We will always be in the same club together, although its not one we probably would have chosen, I do think it has its silver linings on understanding ourselves better. Love to you. xo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: