National Cancer Survivors Day (June 2)

So today is National Cancer Survivors Day. This special day prompts 2 questions:

1. First–What does it mean to be a cancer survivor?

2. And, then, what’s the value of a special day?

We understand what it means to be a survivor of a frightening or horrific public event: the Moore tornado, Hurricane Sandy, the Holocaust. Or to survive a one-time personal disaster: a plane crash, an abusive marriage, a burst appendix.

Cancer isn’t like that. Even the most fortunate, the one whose disease doesn’t recur after treatment, can never be sure she’s outrun the danger until death from another cause. It’s that enduring fear of recurrence that contributes to cancer’s misery, robbing even the young from confidence in the future.

People with cancer used to be called “victims” or “sufferers” It’s certainly more comfortable, more hopeful, more empowering to be referred to as “survivor.” So the cancer community has adopted the survivor title to refer to the state of being post-treatment– whether for the first time, the third time, or the last time. The American Cancer Society survivor current definition shows how flexible the title is. Survivorship includes:

• Living cancer-free for the remainder of life

• Living cancer-free for many years but experiencing one or more serious, late complications of treatment

• Living cancer-free for many years, but dying after a late recurrence

• Living cancer-free after the first cancer is treated, but developing a second cancer

• Living with intermittent periods of active disease requiring treatment

• Living with intermittent periods of active disease requiring treatment 

I’m not sure how many of these situations fit the common meaning of survivor, especially when the label is applied at death.  If “survivor” is a term of admiration and support for the hundreds of thousands experiencing a grueling, frightening disease with a treatment that often feels even worse, if “survivor” gives comfort and hope, then it’s the mot juste (perfect word).

So, hello, survivor. Does it ring your bell to have a special national day of recognition? Do you get cards and flowers, like on Secretary’s (oops, I mean Administrative Professional’s) Day? Do your kids bring you breakfast in bed like Mother’s Day? Do you get a parade like St. Patrick’s Day?

Seems that National Cancer Survivor’s Day doesn’t entail an action, like the National Day of Unplugging (5/28), or Join Hands Day (5/4), when youth and adults are urged to volunteer together. It’s not Get To Know Your Local Survivor Day, or Buy Your Favorite Survivor a Slurpee Day.

I understand why Congress passes an awareness day when a condition is either unfamiliar–like World Hyperemesis Gravidarum Awareness Day (written about on this blog last year)– or disrespected–such as Homeless Day on the [Capitol] Hill. We all know at least one cancer survivor, and mostly we respect her. Perhaps this day, when proposed for Congressional approval, was a slam dunk. Would a politician really vote against honoring cancer survivors? No wonder budget issues take so long in Congress; the agenda is loaded with special days proposals. Makes you wonder– do they need a quorum, or does a tiny “Day Committee” accomplish the task?

Most cancer patients will have no notion that June 2 is their “special day.” If you happen to twig in, maybe by reading this post, will you honor it, yourself, and others in any way? A moment of silence? Prayer? A yoga class? Calling someone with the disease that’s been on your to-call list for way too long? Read a book, sing a song, walk in the woods? Start a blog?


I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you’re alive. I’m glad I get to ponder deep thoughts with you.

And yes, I had my thyroid and major neck muscle removed to treat thyroid cancer in 1965. Thanks (a lot) to the passive nature of this carcinoma, I required neither chemo nor radiation. I did and do get scans, biopsies, and occasional weird tweaks that make me radioactive. Fellow survivors will understand that these years have included their share of medical goofs, revisions in treatment protocol, discomfort, and worry. I guess we do belong to a club.

Gives a new meaning to “Have  Nice Day.”


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.