National Cancer Survivors Month: A 35-Year Survivor Reflects

Health & Wellness

I’m very grateful to celebrate 35 years as a cancer survivor. And I’m proud to have participated personally and professionally in many National Cancer Survivors Month celebrations over the years.

National Cancer Survivors Month is celebrated throughout June. It kicks off with National Cancer Survivors Day on the first Sunday of the month. 

It’s a month-long opportunity to come together and raise awareness of the ongoing physical, social and emotional challenges cancer survivors face, recognize cancer survivors and – most importantly – celebrate life. 

Who Is a Cancer Survivor?

I’ve had the honor of facilitating many cancer support groups over the last 25 years. I currently facilitate The Mesothelioma Center’s support group for people with mesothelioma and their caregivers. Frequently, cancer support group members question when a person officially becomes a cancer survivor.

Some people believe that they have to be five years out from their mesothelioma diagnosis without a recurrence. Others are under the impression that they couldn’t be in active treatment to consider themselves a mesothelioma survivor

According to the National Cancer Institute, any person who remains alive and continues to function during and after a cancer diagnosis is considered a cancer survivor.  So, anyone who currently has or had mesothelioma in the past is a cancer survivor. 

Meaningful Ways to Honor Cancer Survivors Month

It’s important to honor what you need during this month. We can celebrate our own survivorship privately or with our families and loved ones who support us. We may choose to celebrate together with fellow mesothelioma survivors, advocates and medical teams.

Giving ourselves permission to have time on our own to go to the beach or the park, for example, and simply enjoy ourselves is one way to honor our survival. If you’re looking for opportunities to connect with the community, some cancer centers host celebrations for their patients and loved ones.

Cancer survivors honor National Cancer Survivors Month together

The cancer center where I used to work would host a BBQ where patients and oncology staff could get together and celebrate survival in a more festive, social setting than the oncology clinic. Some communities and mesothelioma support organizations also host social or educational events during this time. Keep an eye out in your community to see if there are celebrations near you. 

Survivors may reflect on what their cancer journey means to them, how it changed them physically and mentally. We can talk through those thoughts with family or our peers. Others write and reflect about their cancer journey in a journal. 

Words From a Cancer Survivor

I finished my own cancer treatment in June of 1988 when I was 18 years old. There were times that I would feel alone in my survival because no one my age could relate to what I had been through or what was a priority for me after surviving cancer. 

I did attend a cancer support group to connect with other cancer survivors when I was about 20 years old, but being so much younger than the other group members led to me feeling alone once again. Several years later, I heard of a support group for young adults with cancer and was grateful to find a place where I felt like I fit. I’m forever grateful for that group of people just like me and their acceptance and support. 

After surgery and radiation therapy, I was quite tired physically, battling a nasty case of shingles. And I felt bewildered emotionally at what I had just been through.

Fear of my cancer returning would pop up regularly when it was time for my scans and check ups with my oncologist. For me, it was a fear that would take my breath away. That fear of recurrence would also randomly show itself when I experienced an ache or pain that I couldn’t explain. 

Being a cancer survivor can be hard at times. For me it has been a mixed experience of being thankful to my doctors who went above and beyond to take care of me, fearful of the unknown and a little bit angry at why I was dealt these cards. My own survival journey included a lot of reflection about the direction I wanted to go in my personal and professional life. I had no idea what my future would look like or if my cancer would return. It’s an honor to work with mesothelioma survivors and caregivers who have attended our online support group over the last 10 years.

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