A Reflection on National Cancer Survivor Day: “I’m Cancer-Free, But I Don’t Like the Word ‘Survivor’”

By Katie DeMasi

Today, June 4th, is National Cancer Survivor Day. Personally, I’m not totally in love with the word “survivor.” Maybe it’s because I’m new to this whole thing. It’s only been a little less than two months since I was told I’m cancer free. When I think about survivors, I think about plane crashes or that show on TV. I think about luck. I didn’t beat cancer because I was lucky or because no one decided to vote me off the island. I beat cancer with the help of my healthcare team, especially everyone at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, modern day medicine, and positivity.

Here I am on my last day of chemotherapy.

This is all just my opinion, and maybe as I get older and time goes on, I will understand survivorship in the face of cancer. Nonetheless, today is a day to commemorate those who have won their battles and to remember those who aren’t with us. It is a day of not only celebration, but also reflection.

I often think about what my life was supposed to be before I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma last August. I was supposed to be starting a job as a new nurse in New York City. I was supposed to move out of my childhood home. I was supposed to be living my life like any normal post-graduate. But to be honest, I’m kind of sick of talking about that. I’m more interested in what my life is and will be. I like to think about how my experience with cancer has changed me as a person. I think about what I have overcome and just how I did it.

I have learned the true meaning of the expression “YOLO” (You only live once.) and have included the word “yes” a lot more in my day-to-day life. And not just in the instances where it’s like, “Do you want to get ice cream?” or “Do you want to leave work early?” because those answers always have been and always will be “yes.”

I’m talking more about attitude and experiences. I can say with my whole heart that I have become a more positive person because of what I’ve been through, which might sound weird to some people. Why would something that was pretty awful cause me to have a better outlook on life? Well, it’s because I’m still here. Duh.

Chemo is bad. It is not fun. It is the enemy. But you know what they say: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” So instead of complaining about having to wake up early to sit in traffic just to get to the hospital, and then get chemo dumped into my body, and then feel like a zombie for the next couple of days, I said “yes.” Yes, I can do this. Yes, I can get through this. Yes, I will take that Ativan before I leave the hospital so I can sleep in the car on the way home.

And now that chemo is done and has left me with a taste aversion to cranberry turkey wraps (I know, specific, but I ate one while getting chemo once and just the thought of it is making me gag.), I have carried over my “yes” attitude into my every day life.

I love sitting on the couch in my sweatpants binge-watching Netflix as much as the next girl, but there is a lot to do and see in this world. In this life. I’m not saying I plan on never working again and travelling the world (even though if I won the lottery today, I would probably be on a plane to somewhere new tomorrow); I’m talking about taking advantage of a beautiful day. Spending it outside instead of being cooped up all day. Doing something I’ve never done before, like going to a music festival or paddle boarding. Trying a new menu item at a restaurant I’ve been to a million times. Trying a new restaurant all together. Meeting new people. Spending time with family and friends and really being present.

Here I am outside of NYP after I got my clear scan results, eating my first hot dog in six months. Again, it’s the little things.

It’s the little things that I am saying yes to now. Things that maybe I would have ignored or pushed off before. I have stopped thinking about what the plan for my life was and started to think about what the plan is. Life threw me lemons even though I planned on making orange juice. So what did I do? I took those lemons and made a lot of lemonade during chemo because it really seemed to help with the nausea.

I can wish I never had cancer all I want, but that’s not going to change the fact that I had it. So, I have changed my attitude and learned to appreciate what I have now, turkey wrap taste aversion, lemons, and all.

One thought on “A Reflection on National Cancer Survivor Day: “I’m Cancer-Free, But I Don’t Like the Word ‘Survivor’””

  1. Beautiful. Made me tear.
    Forgetting about what was _supposed_ to be and focusing on what _is_ and what will be and on what I’ve overcome and how I did it.
    Thank you

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