So What Is Survivorship?

Rachel PappasRachel Pappas is a health writer and mother of one and here she shares what survivorship means to her…

I had a “scan scare” a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn’t going to talk about it— not before I had a clue what was going on— but I couldn’t contain myself. So a few days ago I burst out to the facilitator of a support group I’m in during a private conversation.

In one super-fast spurt I said:  “I went in to my general practitioner a coupla Mondays ago— for something totally unrelated to cancer”— and she asked, “Did your oncologist talk to you about your CT scan?” I said, “Noooo.”

I was 46 months out (yes, I still count them – do you?) from my diagnosis, and I was finally relaxing, assuming everything was okay if the call didn’t come within a week of whatever test I’d last had. I would not necessarily recommend not calling for your results, but my doctor watched me ringing my hands one day and said, “Rachel, you let me worry for you; I will call if there is reason to.”

(By the way, I did end up hearing from him shortly after; and I’m adding this verbiage to let you know, in my case, knowing my doctor well, I trust he will call—I just don’t want to give you a double message on whether to follow up or not.)

But going back to the conversation with my friend, Denise, who runs my support group: “[The scan scares] are part of survivorship,” she tells me.

Then she went into the weird thing that showed on her brain that turned out to be nothing. And she told me about the afternoon she was trying on sports bras at Kohl’s, just after finishing treatment. She saw a red, angry patch on her chest. She freaked! Ran to her friend’s house –on the spot— for a quick feel from her friend’s husband. I should mention, he’s a doctor. They talked and pieced it together: She and her husband had made love the night before; he’d nuzzled against her chest and given her a good beard burn!

The cancer scare stories aren’t always this light. Sadly, some of my friends and I’m sure some of yours, maybe even you, yourself, don’t always get the news you want when the results come back.

But all I can say is, Denise was right: survivorship is about life never being quite the same again. And so we have to learn as best we can to live in the moment. To not make up our mind that every pang, bump or ache is “c”, though I know it can be hard, especially if you are newly diagnosed, or if you learned you have metastasized. I think we need to try our best to not give our attention every hour of every day to this invader we did not welcome into our bodies.

Sometimes we have to look “c” in the eye— to get into the doctor when we need to. To talk about our fears when we need to.

But it’s good to say, ok, that’s all the attention you get today, and put it on a shelf. Breathe, relax, go for a walk. Maybe light some candles, run a lavender scented bath and slip into the hot tub for an hour of relaxation.

Because survivorship is about knowing some things are never the same again, and it’s about taking back what control is ours. So we enjoy this life that we, of all people, totally get is something we want to get as much mileage from as we can. And we want to do more than just spin the odometer; we want the trip to be a really good one.

Rachel Pappas is a breast cancer survivor and long-time health writer. She has a website: And she is author of Hopping Roller Coasters, about her daughter and herself, both diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And then comes cancer… 

LBBC recently hosted a community meeting in the Philadelphia area about breast cancer survivorship and you can download a podcast of the meeting or the power point slides here

6 thoughts on “So What Is Survivorship?

  1. I was diagnosed with breast cancer yesterday 12-18, just starting on this path. Will be reading your blog, and others to help me through this. Great article.

  2. Pingback: Weekly Round Up – The Christmas Is Coming Edition | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  3. Yes, those scans are points of tension for me, particularly since receiving news I didn’t want to hear. But you are right about wanting to do more than spin that odometer. I want to drive with all the windows down, wind in my hair and the music blaring. 😉 ~Catherine

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