Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The S-Word

I suppose, if one is open enough to coincidence, happenstance - and all the other "-ce" words that involve inspiration - one can find something to write about every day.

I would shamefacedly admit that I have not been too open as of late. Much physical and emotional activity swirls around the von Bloggenschtern abode, and in the frenzy of it all, I tend put on both blinders and armor, and do my best to just clunk through every day.

But, sometimes...

Sometimes, when it's first thing in the morning, and when the house is still and I know my little chickies are all sound asleep in their nests, and I can hear the dog snoring away his doggy dreams on the couch, sometimes then I can prise open the plating just a little, and be aware of that which is set in front of me.


As I leafed through an issue of one of my magazines that has sat on the counter, sad and unread for a month, I came across a sidebar in the Health section that made me sit up and take notice. Got my dander up. Stuck in my craw.

Quoted was an excerpt from Kris Carr's book, "Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips". The title of the piece?
"Tip No. 36 - Replace the word patient with the word survivor"

Don't know about Kris Carr? She made quite a stir not too long ago with her documentary "Crazy Sexy Cancer", about her diagnosis of a rare and incurable cancer and her subsequent journey back to health through organic nutrition. She has since had a TLC special, and written a book.

She's also one of our blogspot neighbors, and her site is all at once informative, humorous, humble, inspirational and wise.


There is one particular topic on which Ms. Carr and I part ways. Let me first quote the excerpt:

"Until recently, I didn't dare use the S-word. That was a special term reserved for remarkable, strong people. 'Survivors' belonged to a ritzy, dress-code-only country club, a place where the jet-setting cancer-free toasted themselves and hobnobbed. 'Dahhhhhling, I'm a survivor, pass the Grey Poupon.' I wanted so badly to join. But, in my mind, the only way through the emerald gates was remission, or maybe a job as a dishwasher...

Are we not 'surviving' while managing the demands of a busy life? Whether you've made it through the battle or are still in the trenches, pink hats, special ribbons and raised hands for everyone - not just the 'winners'. When I started to call myself a survivor, my whole attitude changed. I put cancer behind me (even though it was still full blown Stage IV) and started living again."

Let it be known, officially, right here and right now, that Shelley Jaffe (a/k/a The Baroness) loathes and despises the word "survivor".

For, as Ms. Carr, points out- it is an exclusive club. But on a much larger scale than anyone cares to think about.

To refer to oneself as a "cancer survivor" means, in my mind, infers that yeah, yeah, yeah - you once had cancer, but you don't anymore. You survived it.

Hence the exclusivity.

What about all of those people who, as Ms. Carr points out, manage to make it through the demands of their busy lives while still in the throes of the disease?

The ones who struggle day after day to put on the brave face for their spouses, their children, their friends - even when all they want to do is to curl into a fetal position and sleep for 3 days straight?

What of the ones who daily, hourly, semi-hourly barf themselves inside out to the point of being a dessicated shell of their former selves?

What about those "survivors"?

The "survivors" that die?

What do we call these brave, courageous, tenacious souls? They tried. Valiantly, with any atom of strength and grace they had left. They faced their mortality, eyeball to eyeball, and they still died.

How on earth can anyone have the audacity to call themselves a "survivor" in the face of all that?

I know that I can't.

At the outset of my diagnosis, I knew right away that I would have a fair bit of work ahead of me, just dealing with the vernacular that goes along with all things cancer-related.

I called my chemotherapy time "sessions" rather than "rounds"; the latter sounded too much like a UFC match with a clear winner and loser.

I said I was "receiving" chemo, rather than "undergoing"; the latter sounded like I was a victim, strapped to the table and writhing in opposition.

And most of all I hated the phrase "battling cancer", for while those of us afflicted try our hardest to deal with it, the whole battle scenario seemed to empower the cancer, making it a worthy and powerful opponent. The whole battlefield allegory was just not my scene.

My good friends Mr. Merriam and Mr. Webster describe the word "Survivor" in one respect as
"to continue to function or prosper despite... syn. withstand."

So maybe I'm a Cancer Withstander.

I like that much better.


asthmagirl said...

You dear Baroness (Ms. Jaffe) are a delight.
I too dispise the word survivor because it denotes to me that perhaps the others didn't try hard enough or even through some whim of fate, that they just didn't make it to life boat in time but that salvation awaited them had they done so.
Most of us know someone that has been taken by cancer and they didn't go because they swam away from the life boat.
I'm tired and rummy, but even with my eyes at half mast, I can still tell that your post was extremely well written.
If I were a betting woman, my money would be on you, BVB!

Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Countess AG: What a remarkable woman you are - bestower of awards, nursemaid, beast wrangler, and STILL you have time to comment! This means a lot to me, coming from you. Grab a nap when you can; soon K2 will have righted herself. Best wished until then!!

Lisa said...

It all makes sense to me, but at the same time I believe that most people don't think that deeply about using the term "cancer survivor" unless you've been very close to it. (And I'm the first one to admit to being one of those in the realm of the clueless.) I know I've never really thought too deeply about all the possible perceptions of the word "survivor", but now I'll have to come up with some other word(s) to describe courage and perserverance. .....babspeapod

Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Countess Babs: Like I said, this is just my personal spin on things. let me tell you, as a lover of words, I have wracked my brain for many a month trying to come up with something better. Because I was brought up to believe that unless you have a better idea, keep going with what's already been established.

Everyone has their own way of dealing, of labelling, of compartmentalizing.

Whatever works.

RiverPoet said...

I have been fortunate enough to only have near misses - no direct hits yet - but I've seen plenty of cancer in my family. It's ugly, no matter what kind you get, and it's a fight, though I don't know any of them who thought of themselves as survivors, battlers, or anything like that. They just thought of themselves as having something bad happen that they had to deal with. Survivable? Maybe. More so these days. But you gotta name your own boat.

Love ya - D

Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Countess RiverPoet: "You gotta name your own boat" - love it - a very apt way of putting things.

iPost said...

I can definitely see your point! I think no matter what you call the people who have cancer, they are still people. And cancer does not define people. It may change people, but it is not the definition of their souls. So I say lets just call everyone by their names.

Not Afraid to Use It said...

I never really understood your stance on the "S" word until now. I am SO glad you wrote this post because it gave me a completely new perspective on it. I love what you had to say, and you are so right. I also love RiverPoet's point--about naming your own boat. I suppose it all comes down to what best works for the person in that situation. Thank you for such a thought-provoking post.

Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Countess iPost: I watched an amazing powerpoint once, which both started and ended with the line " I have cancer. Cancer doesn't have me".
And you are very right - it is not the definition of their souls. Beautifully put!

Countess NATUI: Ah, that RiverPoet - she does know how to turn out a beautiful phrase, doesn't she?

I'm glad to have illuminated my stance - even though I usually appear somewhat cranky, I do have my reasons. I just don't always feel like sharing.

It's an only child thing...

Mental P Mama said...

I have never thought of it this way, and I am so glad to have read this...very poignant, to the point, and true! Beautifully put.

Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

Countess MPM: Here I am, spreading my gospel, one reader at a time. I had to bring this to my blog; my friends and family have already been indoctrinated. Over and over and over...

Thank you for your kind words - you're such a sweetie!

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