People With Cancer Explain Why They Don’t Like Labels

People with cancer sometimes speak about having mixed feelings about specific terms used to label them. Some have even spoken about how being labeled as a “cancer patient” made them feel like their identity was being taken away from them.

In a recent #CureConnect question, we asked the CURE® audience on social media, “Which term do you prefer? Survivor? Thriver? Patient? Something else? Why do you like certain terms and dislike others?”

We had a diverse array of responses, showcasing the spectrum of feelings people who have experienced cancer have about the language used to describe them.

A series of posts will highlight why people with cancer have such strong feelings about being labeled in certain ways. In today’s post, we share why some people with cancer dislike specific or all labels.

Not Wanting to Be Defined by Cancer

“I dislike all the labels for myself, but I have lots of friends who find strength in them and I respect that too.” — Martha Carlson, a woman living with metastatic breast cancer and a CURE® contributor.

“No term at all. Fighting cancer alone is not my identity.”—Shoba R., a woman with bladder cancer that is currently in remission.

“I don’t want to be known as the ‘one with cancer.’ I am so many other things. I do not feel like a survivor while I am still going through treatment. I do not know if I will survive. I realize people aren’t sure what to say, but all they have to do is be there.”— Diane C.

“No term please! Just that one had/has cancer. Like any other illness or disease.” — Christine L.

“You can call me Penny, Mom, Aunt, friend, but I am not defined by a disease that’s an inconvenience. I have friends that are type 1 diabetics. I have never heard them referred to as survivors or any of the other terms.”— Penny T., a woman with stage 4 rectal cancer.

“My experience can be acknowledged as something I went through and its current day-to-day impacts. No label required.”— Bethany, a woman with invasive ductal carcinoma.

“I am a person first, also a ‘patient,’ but dislike ‘survivor’ though I’ve survived with cancer for 6.5 years. I am a person diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. I especially dislike battle terminology (warrior), if it fits you use it, but please don’t use it for, or about, me.”— Janice C., a woman with metastatic triple-negative breast cancer.

“I reject labels unless absolutely necessary for common understanding. You can call me by my first or full name. I’m fine with you adding in the type of cancer, but I am more than my diagnosis. Person-first language, please.”— Mary C., a woman living with metastatic breast cancer.

Dislike of Certain Labels

“I hate the warrior metaphors. Cancer isn’t a ‘win or lose, survive or don’t’ thing — or at least it shouldn’t be. I had cancer. I have cancer. I’m just moving through life, on a long journey down a bumpy road. I celebrate milestones and deal with setbacks just like everybody does!”— Jane C., a woman who was diagnosed with stage 3 endometrial cancer and T-cell large granular lymphocytic leukemia.

“I am fine with (terms) except ‘patient.’ I don’t like being a patient because (it) makes me feel less empowered or in control of my own life. That just doesn’t suit me at all.” — Ronda B., a woman with ovarian cancer.

“I have a love-hate relationship with (cancer labels). I wish there was a word that more accurately describes how I feel. I definitely dislike all the warrior (and) fighter terms because they imply that people can control their outcomes and you really can’t predict that. I am alive but so many who fought just as hard as I did, even more, did not survive.”— Doris C., a woman with inflammatory breast cancer.

“I dislike all ‘fighting’ terms like warrior. Survivor sounds to me (like it’s from) from the same ‘fighting’ family. Still looking for a word that resonates with me, for now being alive today would have to do.” —Margarita F., a woman with breast cancer.

“I prefer not to use the term ‘survivor’ because I’m always conscious (that) cancer can return. Thriver is reserved for stage 4 and I’m stage 3C. I am still in the care of my oncologist so (I) settle for ‘patient’ for lack of anything better.”— Ginny M., a woman who has been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and endometrial cancer.

“I usually use survivor, but I feel like there’s a ‘strength/hero’ connotation that goes with it which I try to avoid. So definitely not ‘warrior.’ ”— Alexx, a woman who had acute myeloid leukemia as a child.

“If I have to pick, maybe ‘survivor.’ I hate ‘thriver’ since that seems to put me up to some artificial standard of a perfect life.”— Joyce B., a woman who has been no evidence of disease for four years.

“I go back and forth between ‘survivor’ and ‘patient.’ I’m (no evidence of disease), but will always be in surveillance mode. Thriver implies (to me) that it’s been easy. It hasn’t.”— Laura E., a woman with metastatic kidney cancer.

“I prefer ‘patient’ for myself. It’s factual. If you’re calling me a ‘warrior,’ it’d better be in the context of a game. ‘Thriver’ irritates me to no end. I’m not thriving. I’m just enduring. ‘Survivor’ implies the thing is over. It will never be over for me.”— Sara, a woman living with stage 4 breast cancer.

“I’m not big on battle language around cancer since I don’t feel like I’m a ‘warrior’ and I’m not ‘thriving.’ ‘Survivor’ sometimes, but I’m still living all of it every day including still getting daily meds. ‘Patient’ is accurate, but I also want to be more than a commodity item.”— Rachel M., a woman with triple-negative breast cancer.

Want to hear more thoughts from people who have been impacted by cancer? Check out our blog page, which is updated daily with insights from patients with cancer, survivors and their caregivers.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

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