When Can I Say I Am a Breast Cancer Survivor?

You Determine When You're a Survivor

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It's hard to talk about being a breast cancer survivor, because there is still no cure for this disease. Your doctor may say that you are in remission. Others of us can say we are NED, which means we have No Evidence of Disease, or we're stable, if diagnosed with metastatic disease and are progression-free. The National Cancer Institute defines a cancer survivor this way:

"An individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis, through the balance of his or her life. Family members, friends, and caregivers are also impacted by the survivorship experience and are therefore included."

A Survivor at Diagnosis

Breast cancer needs time to grow, so when something shows up on a mammogram, or you're doing your monthly BSE and notice something different, most likely your breast mass has been lurking there for longer than you'd like. Breast cancer doesn't suddenly blossom when you have your mammogram or breast biopsy - so when you're diagnosed, you've been living with it for a while. In that sense, you're a survivor right away.

Trauma and Survival

In the world of psychology, a survivor generally refers to a person who has we undergone trauma. There's no question that few things are as traumatic as being diagnosed with breast cancer. Everyone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer has had to endure emotional upheaval as well as some kind of medical treatment. The diagnosis, the disease, and the treatment all bring trauma, but we can refuse to be defined by our cancer.

Victim, Patient, or Survivor?

As detection and treatments have improved, women and men who have been diagnosed with breast cancer are living longer.

While in primary treatment, people can refer to themselves as cancer patients or cancer survivors. After treatment, many feel comfortable saying they're survivors, while others may wish to put the experience behind them and move on. Cancer survival is indeed a process, marked by checkups, changes, and sometimes long-term therapies.

You Have The Final Word

The answer to the question seems to belong to the individual. Anyone diagnosed with cancer can make the decision about what term describes them best. Whether that begins at diagnosis, after surgery, at the end of treatment, after a five-year checkup, or some other time, for most it's not based on the opinions of others. It's also not necessarily measured by medical milestones, even though these can add comfort and reassurance that you're on the right path. 

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