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The term “survivor” is often used to describe people who have successfully completed their cancer treatments, but Sonia Su feels like it doesn’t quite capture the complexity of what it means to be in remission.
As a three-time “cancer alumni,” as she prefers to be called, Sonia Su recognizes the unforgiving nature of cancer.
In an interview with CURE®, Su, who was diagnosed with primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma, shared her perspective on why she feels that the term “survivor” does not offer a complete understanding of what it means to be in remission from cancer. She pointed out that receiving a cancer diagnosis will impact the rest of someone’s life, even after successfully completing treatment.
“We, as cancer survivors, essentially all took the ‘courses’ of cancer and graduated, and to use the word ‘survived’ essentially means that we’ll be okay from now on,” Su said. “And to be honest, we never know. The harsh reality is that cancer can come back at any point.”
So, I don't think I really realized the potentially negative connotation of the word ‘survivor’ until I had actually presented this nonprofit idea to one of my professors, and he used the word ‘alumni,’ like cancer alumni.
And I thought that that was such a such a great term to use, because it's true. He was a cancer survivor as well. We, as cancer survivors, essentially all took the ‘courses’ of cancer and graduated, and to use the word ‘survived’ essentially means that we'll be okay from now on. And to be honest, we never know. The harsh reality is that cancer can come back at any point. And I mean for me, especially, I'm only two years out, and medically, I think, you know, five years is like the safe zone. So, I don't even know if I can call myself a survivor. And if anything, I know I'm an alumni. I did go through all of that. And you know, that was a crazy learning experience, and I learned a lot.
But I think just recognizing that a lot of us also have a lot of fear of recurrence constantly, especially for people who have had relapses (is important). And so, I think it's just more about being slightly more considerate about the reality of cancer. We’ve survived it, but even as survivors or alumni, we’ll have long term effects and you know, our lives are forever changed. So, it's not that we can exactly go back to normal. It's just (that) we're always going to be living with the effects of cancer.