Wikipedia defines a cancer survivor as “… an individual with cancer of any type, current or past, who is still living.”

I am pretty sure that the definition should be amended to include those who lost a loved one to cancer.

You see, we – my grandparents and sisters and dad, and all of my mom’s good friends and family – we are cancer survivors as well.

We are the leftovers of my mom’s brain cancer.

We are the ones left with picking up the pieces. My mom is gone, but we’re still here, and so many of our daily activities are constant reminders of her death. Whether it’s celebrating my niece’s birthday without my mom – and remembering she was at the previous one – or celebrating my nephew’s birthday – and still feeling slightly shocked that instead of my mother, my dad’s new girlfriend is celebrating with us – these are all symptoms of our survival. (Side note: We really love my dad’s new girlfriend and her sons – but that’s for another post.)

We are the ones who are grieving on a daily basis. The ones who need to figure out where we go from here, what changes we need to make, such as the previously-mentioned deletion of phone numbers and email addresses.

We are the ones who keep having to tell the story. Every time we run into someone who didn’t know my mom was sick and we have to tell them she died, we are survivors all over again. Even though the process isn’t as painful as it was at first, it still isn’t easy. When I speak of my mom as being dead, I am completely disconnected from the words coming out of my mouth. As far as I’m concerned, I could be talking about the rain in Minnesota. Because that’s my way of surviving.

We are the ones who feel the effects of her death every day, even in stupid things like accidentally saying “My mom would love that!” and then feeling bad for the person who heard it because they don’t know what to say.

We’re the ones who can randomly start crying at any given moment (this isn’t as bad as it used to be) and then have to start explaining why. And, of course, feeling bad.

We’re the ones who have lost additional friends – and even family members – because they don’t know what to say to us anymore. Now that our mom died, they’ve simply stopped speaking to us. This has happened on every level of friendship – and even family – that we have.

We are the ones who are labeled. The Ones Whose Mom/Wife/Child/Grandmother Died of Brain Cancer.

We are the ones who are looked upon with pity, both by those who know us and don’t how to talk to us anymore, and those who just find out.

We’re the ones who easily freak out about anything. Every time my words get mixed up or I use a feminine instead of masculine word or get a headache or can’t feel some random part of my body – I flip out, because those were my mom’s symptoms. Yes, I know that it’s not hereditary, and no, I don’t call the doctor about either of them. But just like every sound in my building has been scaring me since the break in last month (for the most part), this is something I can’t change.

My mom’s glioblastoma affected our life profoundly and forever altered who we are. It has changed us in every possible way, and its devastation is felt almost on a daily basis.

The original definition of “cancer survivor” is a positive one; It is one of triumph, one that shows that even though cancer has attacked, people can survive.

I can only assume, then, that we – the friends and family of those who have died – cannot be included in the official definition because we are the negative side of cancer.

But we are, in fact, cancer survivors as well.

Advertisements