Are You a "Survivor"?
Do you feel like a breast cancer "survivor"? What does the "s word" mean to you?
A recent Harris Interactive Poll found that 57% of women who have had breast cancer say that it took four years or less, following their treatment, to feel like a survivor. Although this is a majority, it still says that 43% did not share the feeling. This same poll found that 69% of women who have had breast cancer think that it is very or somewhat likely for women to experience a recurrence--but only 36% think it very or somewhat likely to happen to them.
Your Worry Factor
What does this mean to you? How much do you worry about a recurrence of your breast cancer or being diagnosed with a second primary breast cancer? Do you worry less than you did previously? Has the safe passage of time since your treatment helped you feel more optimistic? Have you talked with your oncologist about statistics that apply to your particular situation? Are you better off knowing more or less?
These are questions that we ask and struggle with daily in my office. Most women do find that time helps their anxiety although there are predicatable days of increased worry: annual mammograms, doctors' appointments, anytime you hear about someone who has experienced a recurrence of even died of breast cancer. Many women worry each time they have a new ache or pain, and a few panic at those moments.
Two Week Rule
Most oncologists operate by "the two week rule." This means that any ache, pain, cough, or other symptom that persists more than two weeks should be reported. Anything that disappears in less time (which is most things) does not need to be a concern. Obviously, there are exceptions: sudden double vision, chest pain, pain that is acute and intense, need an immediate reaction. Most of us, however, are reassured by waiting a few days and noting that the back ache, or whatever, is gone.
So, do you consider yourself a survivor? Personally, I am highly superstitious and prefer to avoid that word. This leads sometimes to tortured syntax as I describe myself as "having had breast cancer twice", but I don't then feel that I am tempting fate. Others, lacking this particular neurosis, are proud to don the "survivor" role immediately after diagnosis--and that is the definition used by the National Coalition of Cancer Survivors (NCCS).
I would love to hear your thoughts.