I Refuse to be a “Cancer Survivor”

There are several titles given to people who are fighting cancer: “Cancer Survivor,” “Cancer Warrior,” “Cancer Thriver.” It’s fine with me if others choose to identify with any of these groups. However, I refuse to accept or use any of these names. They don’t fit with my experience of living with chronic cancer.

“Cancer Survivor”

woman with IV walking down hospital hall; Cancer survivor

Prior to the mid-1980s, anyone dealing with cancer was called a “cancer patient” or a “cancer victim.” In 1985, Dr. Mullan introduced the term “cancer survivor” to be used from diagnosis to end of life. He felt it was more encouraging and that this new title would better empower patients. Whether they had a poor prognosis or a good one, they were all dealing with cancer.

Don’t get me wrong! I definitely want to live for many, many years after being diagnosed with cancer 2+ years ago. I dislike this phrase because it sounds like I’ve been the victim of some terrible trauma. In my imagination, when I hear “cancer survivor,” it means others have been destroyed but I’m still standing, with ragged clothes, bandages everywhere, and a far-away gaze that is fixated on the horrors I’ve been through. This vision does not fit with my experience so far. I’ve had two surgeries (recovery wasn’t fun but it also wasn’t traumatic) and am currently taking a targeted medication that causes very few side effects. This is certainly a difficult path to walk emotionally, but I don’t feel like a “cancer survivor.”

“Cancer Warrior”

woman with bandaged arms wearing mask, cancer warrior

At first glance, this might be a good description for me. When facing challenges, I tend to stand strong and fight through to the other side of the obstacles. With chronic cancer, every few years I can expect another round of battle. The problem with this label is that the cancer world is changing its focus since the 1970s when President Nixon declared a “war on cancer.” My oncologist often reminds me that our goal is to figure out how I can live in balance with this cancer. (I will explain this more fully in a future blog post.) We want to slow tumor growth and calm its aggressiveness. I am on a (hopefully) long journey. I am not just a soldier in a one-and-done war. I am not a “cancer warrior.”

“Cancer Thriver”

woman in hospital gown with oxygen tubing in nose, cancer survivor

Nope, I am also not a “cancer thriver.” I suspect this less-used title is an attempt to show the changing outlook toward treating cancer. It does have a positive vibe to it—thriving, not fighting—but it feels too Susie-Sunshine-Always-Happy. A constant refrain of “be happy,” “be positive” “claim your victory” gets very tiresome. Most of us who deal with any chronic disease face frequent challenges. Sometimes life is difficult. We keep walking but aren’t necessarily skipping or dancing along the path all the time. As an optimistic realist, I am not a “cancer survivor” but I am also not a “cancer thriver.”

Other Titles for Cancer Patients

couple in snowy woods

I’ve tried to come up with other names for those like me who are dealing with chronic cancer. Cancer winner, cancer conqueror, cancer victim, cancer hero, cancer fighter—all of these phrases fall flat for me, for reasons similar to what I’ve expressed above. Quite honestly, most of the time when I’m talking about myself, I am more likely to acknowledge homeschooling our large family or being a Nature Therapy Guide or being an artist or a writer. Cancer is only one facet of my very full life. However, for times when I want to acknowledge the health adventure I’m currently going through, my hubby helped me find the perfect phrase for ME!

I am a Cancer Navigator!

Thanks for taking time to read this nerdy post! I love choosing just the right word to describe something. And I enjoy learning about the origins of words and phrases. Now that I am an active cancer patient yet again, I decided to add a “health adventures” tab to my website. You can follow my current cancer journey in a couple of ways:

  • click HERE to see frequent mini updates plus links to the pages below.
  • click HERE to see a compilation of all of the mini updates archived in one place: and
  • click HERE to see photos and read blog stories about the ups and downs of this stressful journey plus posts from past health challenges.
  • Feel free to poke around the site and check out other Big Epic Adventures I have documented in the past—backpacking and other outdoor fun, becoming a certified Nature and Forest Guide, trip reports, and other daily activities.


If you hate to miss the latest reports from my Cancer Journey, you can bookmark this site or you can scroll to the bottom of any page and sign up to receive an email notification whenever I make a new post.

(THANK YOU for following with me on this cancer journey! I appreciate every comment, encouragement, prayer, good wishes, and other types of support. I can’t imagine doing this alone…)

5 thoughts on “I Refuse to be a “Cancer Survivor”

  1. I was just about to suggest Cancer Explorer when you settled on Cancer Navigator – similar thoughts about traveling the path wherever it takes you.


  2. Actually your whole last paragraph gave many options “when I’m talking about myself, I am …teaching… or being a Nature Therapy Guide or being an artist or a writer. Cancer is only one facet of my very full life. However, for times when I want to acknowledge the health adventure …” You know how colleges have “resident” professors with specialty areas who hang out with them for a year or so? You could be a Resident Cancer Artist, or Cancer Blogger or Cancer Adventurer or Cancer Therapy Tour Guide or instead of a tree hugger you are an IV pole hugger – this could go on and on with all your past life escapades!


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