I am a Cancer Victim

vic·tim  [vik-tim] noun

1. a person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency: a victim of an automobile accident.

2. a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency: a victim of misplaced confidence; the victim of a swindler; a victim of an optical illusion.

(from dictionary.com)

This one is going to rankle some feathers, and I look forward to a brisk dialogue in the comments section!

So let me set the stage. It’s Monday night, #BCSM TweetChat. As the chat begins introductions are made. Since the majority of the group knows each other, quite intimately in fact, there’s lots of cross-talk: updates on health, conferences, journal articles, blog posts, etc. You can feel the sheer joy many of us experience in reconnecting and settling in to an hour of support, love and learning, with virtual milk and cookies at the end.

Now imagine you’re new to this group. I would guess that for some, jumping into the dialogue is a bit like daring to be the newcomer at a crowded table in the high school cafeteria. I know when I started in chat I was a bit unsure. I know, too, that many newcomers introduce themselves with a bit of trepidation, letting us know that they will be lurking – both negotiating the rapid pace and ensuring they feel safe are challenges.

On a few occasions it’s gone something like this:

“Hi, I’m so-and-so and I’m a cancer victim.”

Which is then greeted with some variation on:

“We aren’t victims here.”

And THAT is where I get bent out of shape. I mean, we’re not even talking about the labeling of someone else as a cancer victim, but about self-identification.

I get it. I know that there are no “regulars” in the #BCSM community who identify themselves as “victims.” Even the label “survivor” is wrought with controversy and resistance. I know that it’s actually frowned upon to be a “victim;” considered disempowering. I also know that this is not an issue unique to #BCSM. You see it in oncology offices, cancer support groups and I even know someone who was “corrected” by her own therapist.

My question is this: Who are any of us to shape, determine, judge how another self-identifies? Are we really that sure that our view is the right view?

When it comes to crimes, car accidents, 9/11 and natural disasters we are quite comfortable with the word “victim.” There is no judgment, no stigma. The Red Cross rushes in with aid, we provide food and shelter for victims, money pours in from across the country. In the US, FEMA arrives…we focus our efforts and energy on solving the problem, not placing blame. In fact, we assume blame exists externally – no earthquake or tsunami victim is at fault.

Then there are things like cancer and poverty and rape, where “victim” becomes an shunned word; one that does involve blame. Look back at the definition at the top. There’s no blame there. Somehow, though, when these more subjective topics come into play we recoil, get angry about – even judge – the use of the word “victim.”

Yet it seems to me a victim is someone upon whom an outside force acts, impacting the person negatively. Wouldn’t we all say that about our cancer?

I often find when we turn things upside down they are not at all what they first appear to be. And I find the more I think about this, the more I wonder if our visceral anger when hearing “cancer victim” isn’t about our not having completely, deeply shaken the notion of blaming the cancer victim. Is it possible that we reject so full-hardly the “cancer victim” in an effort to dispel any possibility that this is our fault? And if so, why do we accept the blame at all?

Looking forward to your thoughts passionate responses…please play nicely!

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49 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. DrAttai
    Mar 07, 2013 @ 20:56:11

    Lori – I’m so glad you wrote this post. It’s been said before and I don’t think it can be said enough – to each their own. Every one of us is different. We have different backgrounds, upbringings, and values. And every one deals with their cancer differently. And that’s OK!! It’s also OK that one might change their view of who or what they “are” in regards to their cancer over time.

    I think it’s important that we continually remind ourselves of what we as a community are all about. Of course we want to educate and empower. But at the end of the day, what we also want to do is support and respect. Respect that every one has the right to “do their cancer” in their own way – just how we respect the desire of someone to live in the city versus the country, or to wear purple versus wearing green. And support the decisions another person makes, even if you don’t agree with them.

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 08:51:28

      Thank you, Deanna. It can be a challenge to fully support someone who chooses a vastly different past than the one we have taken, and the more I think about it the more I believe that difficulty stems not from what another chooses but from what we haven’t. There is so much doubt, so much unknown about cancer. No matter how stalwart our faith in our own choices, we never truly known if the “answer” lied on another path. That can be a hard place to live…

      Reply

  2. AnneMarie
    Mar 07, 2013 @ 21:03:23

    Lori…

    Your points are well taken and they are crystal clear. And you are right. We’ve been slammed by a force over which we had NO CONTROL despite what some might try to force upon us. I’ll wear the victim label with you.

    In fact, when I google how I FEEL, which is victimized, this is what appears:
    vic·tim·ize
    /ˈviktəˌmīz/
    Verb
    Single (someone) out for cruel or unjust treatment.

    I’d say that fits. Cancer is cruel and there is not a single thing “just” about the treatment.

    I can be a victim and still be an empowered patient, an anchored activist (phrase stolen from Jody), a passionate advocate. If the definition fits……it FITS.

    I might propose we consider “hostage,” too. According to Merriam Webster:
    Hostage: One who is involuntarily controlled by an outside influence.

    It fits…. I hope this is a lively conversation and I hope everyone plays nicely, too. If there is a tar and feathering, however, I’ll be right beside you….. without a second’s hesitation or a blink of my eye.

    Love you…

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 08:54:06

      Hostage – VERY interesting. In fact, it might be interesting to see what we came up with if, for the sake of argument, we rejected all the words we typically hear and sought truly new ones.

      I agree with you that victim and disempowered are not at all the same. The challenge is when someone else self-identifies as a “victim” WE see them as disempowered. That’s OUR problem, not theirs!

      As always, love your thinking!

      Reply

  3. nancebeth
    Mar 07, 2013 @ 21:12:59

    I am one who doesn’t like to use the word victim when it comes to my cancer. I didn’t use the word victim when I was sexually assulted in college either. I did not say “I was a victim of sexual assault.” Rather, I was sexually assaulted.

    I am not a cancer victim. I was a cancer patient. Now I am a cancer survivor. But I am way more than my cancer.

    I have people introduce me to others like so: “This is Nancy, she had breast cancer.” I don’t introduce my friend as “This is Judy, she has herpes.”

    If someone refers to me as a victim of cancer, I won’t correct them, because in a sense I am, but I view myself as a survivor…of life and every curve ball i has thrown my way. And there have been a lot.

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 08:57:01

      Thanks so much for your comment, Nancy. I think I actually fall into your camp – the labels ultimately don’t matter to me. They are a convenient way to share experience. I put on the one that most closely resembles my inner world at any given time – and it changes!

      Sorry to hear about Judy’s herpes! (Kidding…) But your point is well taken. The sorting though of what makes up our identity as we portray that in the world is complicated, and impacted by others around us. We all have a myriad of identities, and wear them differently everywhere we go.

      Thanks so much for commenting!!

      Reply

  4. NotDownOrOut
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 03:41:43

    Hi, Lori, I meet people who do feel victimized, which suggests that someone did something to them while they were passive. That must help a little if you have encountered people who follow up on news of your diagnosis with questions about what you did to get this disease. It’s interesting that people refer to car crashes as “accidents” even when a driver behaved intentionally or with reckless misconduct. Yet people address others who suffer from disease as responsible just as automatically. This is the case even though consumer affairs and health reporters change their guidance as to the healthiness and safety of common practices all of the time. One minute eggs are bad, then your friend. The same is true of meat. Diet sodas were good for helping you manage your weight. Now they are a trigger for insulin problems and obesity. Maybe it is comforting for others to think of us as victims because they subconsciously (or consciously) believe that people get what’s coming to them. The corrollary would be that if you live “right” and follow the rules this cannot happen to you. Sadly self-serving semantics. If someone wants to call herself a victim, then I have no problem with it. She should make the choice.

    One of the women I met in treatment never mentions “having” cancer. It’s never “her” cancer. Her view is that this frees her from it because she doesn’t “accept” it. If that works for her then I try to remember that when speaking with her. I think of it as my enemy. I have used the “war” jargon when I wanted to stoke the passion for handling challenges during treatment and recovery.

    I think we should each choose the signs we’ll hang around our own necks. If someone else is a victim, a survivor, or a disease, I am okay with that. However, when I introduce them to others, like NanceBeth, I avoid saying things like, “Meet my friend X, she has ___ cancer.” I don’t think about that as a personal trait. If it were, today I would be, “Cheryl, she has unclipped hangnails, radiation cystitis, and a bunch of unexplained red dots on her legs. She goes by the nickname ‘Unexplained Side-Effects of Cancer Treatment.'”

    You can call me Cheryl. I answer to that, too!

    Lori, as always, thanks for posting such thought-provoking material.

    Reply

    • AnneMarie
      Mar 08, 2013 @ 07:04:40

      Love THIS:

      I think we should each choose the signs we’ll hang around our own necks. If someone else is a victim, a survivor, or a disease, I am okay with that. However, when I introduce them to others, like NanceBeth, I avoid saying things like, “Meet my friend X, she has ___ cancer.” I don’t think about that as a personal trait.”

      Love it….. We choose and we choose how we incorporate that into our lives. I’m still VERY cautious about those who do know. “Is it in your family?” is beginning it irk me:

      “Yes, my mom, but it wasn’t in HER family….. and now she’s had two different diagnoses at twenty year intervals and is currently metastatic, in other words, she WILL either die of or die with breast cancer. No Stage V and no option C either.” BOOM. (Ok, I’ll admit, I generally say that in my mind while I’m smiling as they pepper me with questions that I either choose to answer as a “teaching opportunity” or I ignore because of the sheer ignorance of the questions.) My patience is wearing thin with the blame game or the need for those looking over the fence to placate their own fears at my (our) expense.

      Maybe I’m just cranky right now. I can’t get to the oncologist AGAIN today…. Nine inches of snow. No plow. Still coming down. Another neighbor to my mom’s rescue. I DO have a name for those people: Selfless, Kind, Considerate, Truly HEROES. She has 3 immediate neighbors. Last visit one neighbor took her, today, neighbor #2 stepped up. And I sit here, snowed in, feeling helpless.

      xoxo

      Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 09:02:14

      Wonderful thoughts, Cheryl! The point about “accidents” is a really interesting take on this. And as I wrote this piece thoughts of lung cancer patients danced through my head, because I know there is an extraordinary component of blame there. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestos cancer, and nearly everyone I told asked if she had smoked – including chaplains! I’ve mused before about our need to find a reason for someone’s illness so that we can distinguish ourselves enough to not face our own risk head-on.

      I’m so glad you shared, thank you!

      Reply

  5. Jody Schoger
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 05:59:25

    Thanks for this, Lori –
    The word victim makes me shudder. In the context of cancer it implied powerlessness. And that is not how I wanted to feel going in for treatment for this disease. Did I consider the concept of blame? Sure. I’m a woman, without children, I started my periods early. But victim? No. It’s just not part of my vocabulary, or experience.

    What’s of more interest: how these stereotypes prevail after years of “consciousness” raising. That’s a deeper cultural issue I’d love to understand. An individual’s reaction to her cancer tells us a lot about who she is and the kind of support she might need. My concern is that – for now – the woman who considers herself cancer’s victim is not on #bcsm.

    Happy weekend!
    Xxoo
    Jody

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 09:06:03

      I certainly agree in the world of #BCSM we need to hold space for ALL women (nay, all PEOPLE), regardless of the labels they choose for themselves. The challenge is fully accepting them, without an agenda to “bring along” or “educate” them into seeing that they aren’t a victim.

      I can’t remember if I’ve ever shared the story here about a support group I lead that taught me the less of truly accepting where someone else is at. I’ll have to look back and repost or write it. I learned a lot that day….

      Thanks for sharing, Jody!
      XOXOX

      Reply

  6. Elaine Schattner
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 06:54:08

    Thank you for articulating the point so clearly in your title, Lori. What more to say? Best, Elaine

    Reply

  7. hopeforheather
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 07:25:38

    Wow! Such an incredible topic to think about! I never ever thought I was a victim of my brain tumors or Cowden’s Syndrome…although sometimes I feel smothered and choked by them (due to my anxiety and trying to cope and process them).

    I went to a presentation last night where my neurosurgeon spoke and the majority present had brain cancer…I never considered those there to be victims of cancer. Come to think of it, I don’t actually know what/how I think of them.

    I guess fighting with EVERYTHING they have within them like I am.

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 09:07:20

      Thanks for commenting! I will say, I use all kinds of OTHER labels as well…I’m not ONLY a cancer victim. But it is a word that fits, at least for me!

      Reply

  8. diggingher
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 09:43:28

    I read a book in the not so distant past titles, Personal Accountability. It spoke to the victim cycle and how to “break” free of it. There are certainly people who have a higher than average victim mentality but as I read the book I realized that even me, the Pollyanna that I am, can at time be found in the victim loop.

    In my current work with breast cancer patients I encounter a few of these “victims”. They are usually the patient who doesn’t fare as well during treatment which for me illuminates the association between mind, body and soul. However to provide loving, compassionate care and guidance to everyone it become a requirement to learn to temper our tongues and not alienate someone who probably very much needs the very supportive care that can be provided by me or in this case the group.

    We do not all come to the table from the same background or with the same baggage therefore we must discover ways to reach everyone and as my yoga teacher says…it is often times the most challenging pose that gives us the greatest breakthrough.

    Reply

  9. Tracy
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 09:54:27

    Victim isn’t a label I’d choose for myself though the definition ‘person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action’ certainly fits and the scars act as a reminder lest I should miraculously forget someday. The word victim seems to have become enshrouded with negative connotations such as being weak or helpless whereas survivor seems to signify something heroic and super human. The definition of survivor is simply a person who survives or copes well with difficulties in their life. I’ve never thought of myself as being defined by cancer so victim and survivor don’t really fit either. Its just something that happened and I have to deal with it – like the pernicious anaemia that arrived from nowhere 10 years ago. As others have said, I think its up to the individual to decide how they talk about themselves. There is a fair amount of research to suggest we become our words and act into them so on that basis I’m Tracy, mother, daughter, sister and friend enjoying the rest of my life whatever happens.

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 09:10:32

      Thanks for your comments, Tracy. I agree with you. As I read your response I started thinking about all the fitting labels I have NEVER used, and never would! We are each so very many things… I guess part of this is bringing awareness to our CHOICES, and fully accepting the choices of others!

      Reply

  10. bethgainer
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 14:41:16

    Lori, this is such an important post. Labels are a hot-button for me. I think it’s because I don’t like being defined by others; however, we all have a right to define how we perceive ourselves. Nowadays, “victim” has such a negative connotation in cancer circles, and I really am not sure how that happened. Thank you for writing such a thought-provoking, excellent post.

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 09:11:40

      Thanks for commenting, Beth. With a background in both sociology and social work, how these things weave into and through our cultural milieu fascinates me. I think it is rarely what we see at first blush….

      Reply

  11. Alli
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 15:12:09

    I don’t like to put a labels to myself because I would end up with far too many lol
    I don’t like to call myself a victim of anything. I have cancer because of unknown circumstances
    I am me, who I always have been I just happen to have Breast Cancer. however that being said when I address an envelope or sign my name I don’t use
    Ms Alicia.___________ Breast Cancer Victim
    I have never identified myself as a disease or anyone else.. I firmly believe that people fall into the trappings of trying to be politically correct and everything we do say or think has to be identified with something. As I said if I were to do that I’d run out of room…..
    Thanks for a very enlightening piece!!
    Love Alli…..

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 09:13:26

      Oh Alli, couldn’t agree MORE on the “politically correct” front. I am so TIRED of it, and fear that it has done little to bring enlightenment or awareness, but simply driven us deeper from being our true selves in the world. I’m glad you commented!

      Reply

  12. Tami Boehmer
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 15:17:02

    Very intriguing topic. I never thought about the distinction between “flood victims” and other such things and how the word victim applies to people with cancer. To me, being a victim means you are totally powerless over your situation. I have been living with stage IV cancer for five years and in no way consider myself a victim.

    I believe like other people said here, there are so many ways we can empower ourselves after a cancer diagnosis. While no one knows of cancer’s causes unless there is a genetic mutation, there is growing evidence of the body, mind, spirit connection, the role of diet and nutrition, being proactive, and other things we can do to empower ourselves to live more fulfilling, healthier lives. I believe this to be the case whether, you’ve experienced violence or a natural disaster. It’s not what happens to you but how you react to it that defines who you are. Thanks to this discussion, I will rethink my use of “victim” in other contexts.

    Reply

    • Anonymous
      Mar 08, 2013 @ 20:03:49

      In jest I’ve referred to myself as having my PhD in Cancer.. Perhaps I’ll say Im “experienced” in Cancer? I too hate labels.. “Victim” is too simplified and the term seems to effectively closed the door on further discourse on the “affliction ” oops , done it again.. Another label!
      Thanks for the engaging discussion 🙂

      Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 09:18:57

      You raise some very good points, Tami. Of course we can all influence our outcomes through our actions. I think, for example, of the images of Katrina “victims” on the rooftops of buildings awaiting rescue and what they could have done days and even hours earlier to influence their fates (and not risk the lives of their rescuers, btw). Yet as you mention, there are those with far less control, where gene mutations come into play – but even here not everyone with a BRCA mutation gets cancer, so there’s still more under the surface. And there we sit on the edge of “blaming” someone for her cancer…and that too is a dangerous game.

      More questions than answers, yet again!

      Reply

  13. Cancer Curmudgeon
    Mar 08, 2013 @ 19:57:58

    Reblogged this on anotheronewiththecancer and commented:
    Wow, great post, great discussion. I love anything that causes thought provoking discussion.

    I am fascinated by the knee-jerk rejection of the word victim. Based on the definition in the beginning of this post, being a victim is nothing to be ashamed of, really. It is not like I actively “asked for it”; I did not sit around, cigarette dangling out of my mouth, beer in one hand, fatty chicken leg in the other going “come and get me cancer!” I did not cause my cancer. And I think there is something to be explored when you say “I wonder if our visceral anger when hearing ‘cancer victim’ isn’t about our not having completely, deeply shaken the notion of blaming the cancer victim.” The message that one can prevent cancer by eating right, exercising, abstaining from smoke an alcohol is ubiquitous and the way I interpret it, I am being blamed for getting cancer. I see many comments about empowering oneself and choosing to do all these right things, and I wonder if that is about helping the patient feel back in control. I pose this question: if we desire to empower ourselves and exert control by doing all these right things, and reject the notion of victimhood, then if cancer returns, are we willing to accept blame?

    The word victim seems to be another troubling—for me—piece of the confusing language of cancer. I do not generally call myself a victim, but after this post I might. If I remember correctly, rejection of the word started when breast cancer activism began borrowing from AIDS activism, as patients began to identify as activists, and then blew up when the Komen/Livestrong warrior language (wish I could remember the places I read this, so I could site it). I have so much trepidation regarding these words: awareness, survivor, victim, warrior, acceptance, battle, fight, hope. I am coming to terms with identifying as survivor but I may never be comfortable with the warrior talk. I did not battle cancer; I made logical, informed decisions to go to a doctor, learn my options, and engage in treatment. It wasn’t as dramatic as gearing up for a firefight in Iraq or something, but I do not consider myself passive either; that would’ve been choosing to not get treated and let cancer kill me. To me hope is the most passive word in the bunch, but that is the one slathered all over breast cancer awareness ads, and usually embraced in the community. I don’t like it. Sounds like we are just supposed to wait like good little patients, and hope someone finds a cure. Bleh, no thanks.

    It is odd to me that there is discussion about victim mentality; if anything, the example you presented seems to indicate the opposite. Sounds like specifically in this instance there was almost peer pressure to reject victimhood and so forth. I do not think it is a symptom of victimhood mentality, or a failure to move forward by recognizing that cancer had a major impact on my life. Obviously it did, or I would not be blogging about it, or reading other blogs and commenting on them.

    Reply

    • Anonymous
      Mar 08, 2013 @ 21:20:06

      My cancer has never left and, no, I don’t blame myself.

      Reply

    • Jane
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 06:34:25

      I was going to post something on this but you stated the things I believe with more eloquence than I could have. I chose the term cancer victim for myself because I feel as though I’ve been attacked. One year ago i was fine, looking forward to a summer of kayaking and hiking. Never happened because I was attacked by breast cancer. I can’t get justice from my attacker, but I can learn to cope with the scars ( emotional and physical) that remain. I think, for me, it is more empowering, and more emblematic of the long journey that remains ahead, waiting to see if the attacker returns, for the rest of my life. Not overtly, just nervously glancing over my shoulder with each scan or appointment.

      Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 09, 2013 @ 09:34:21

      THIS: “I pose this question: if we desire to empower ourselves and exert control by doing all these right things, and reject the notion of victimhood, then if cancer returns, are we willing to accept blame?” That is another slippery slope, isn’t it? I imagine it is human instinct to find blame, and to place it outside ourselves. However, accepting our responsibility is one thing – I do worry sometimes that the increasing focus on the role of diet, stress, exercise, etc. will in fact lead to those who don’t have cancer thinking those who do are at fault.

      Thanks for your provocative response!

      Reply

  14. Karen Sutherland
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 20:32:11

    dear lori,

    what an excellent topic; and i have really been impressed and learned so much just reading all the thoughtful, introspective responses. i’ve never participated in a twitter session, but i imagine doing it for the first time might be somewhat intimidating. as you pointed out, not in these words exactly, it’s a fast and furious exchange and one in which a new person may be floundering, unsure of themselves, and not knowing all the finer points of …well…much of anything. to make a judgement on how they introduce themselves seems to me to be the polar opposite of what a BC twitter group is all about. so what if they use the word victim? i say welcome them with open arms, show them what you’ve got to offer, draw them out with kindness and compassion so they will be encouraged to step a little closer to learn more, to be encouraged to read the many wonderful blog stories that are so full of inspiration and run the full gamut of emotions and experiences. the topics of BC is a whole big world of everything from the good, the bad, and the ugly. the important thing to consider is the PERSON, not the label – not the one they assign to themselves that might induce a wince, not the one that others might find more palatable. extending an ear to encourage listening, providing a safe and nurturing environment of inclusiveness, and employing empathy trumps the divisiveness of “labels” every time. and i think it’s important to realize that how we see ourselves at one point in time may evolve to something completely different, and even then, change many times according to what we are experiencing. the position of someone with breast cancer is not at a fixed point; shit happens, life happens, the stars align, the earth beneath our feet caves in, we win, we lose. we’re up, then down. we can be puddles of despair, then rise like a phoenix. we really never know the full stories of those who we first encounter. and to jane – i hear ya sister! and i wish you all the best.

    thanks, lori for providing a forum for such a lively and provocative topic.

    love, XOXO,

    karen, TC

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 10, 2013 @ 18:50:23

      Thank you so much for your thoughts, Karen! And I do think many of us welcome every, every, EVERY chat newcomer with open arms! I would LOVE for you to join us!!! There is also a powerful off-line, post-line community that strives to embrace everyone new to #BCSM. Hope you join us as you and we evolve!

      Reply

  15. jbaird
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 20:50:55

    I’ve heard survivors want to call themselves cancer veterans, but even that term raises the military flag, and some don’t like the idea of battles and wars when it comes to cancer. My visceral reaction to being called a victim is to recoil. And maybe now I should rethink that response. Thanks for this thoughtful post that has raised so many comments. xo

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 10, 2013 @ 18:53:19

      JAN! You can’t imagine how happy I am to see you here! My first reaction was to recoil as well. But upon further reflection, VICTIM is one of many, many labels that fit.

      More importantly, SO REMARKABLY GLAD you are back! XOXOXOXO

      Reply

  16. Marie Ennis-O'Connor (@JBBC)
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 05:42:11

    Thank YOU!!! Thank YOU! Thank YOU! for writing this. I have felt compelled to address the same issue on my blog this past week too. I am becoming increasingly disturbed at the hierachial and judgmental tone that is taking over what should be an inclusive and supportive online space for all of us! I have had readers write privately to me to say they have stopped commenting for fear of saying the “wrong” thing. This makes me so sad. Surely we walk a tough enough path without having to censor what we say about what we feel.

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 10, 2013 @ 18:57:26

      Oh Marie, how profoundly sad that any woman would feel pushed out of our community for the sake of how she sees herself!!!!! I hope all will feel empowered to write what they feel, and that those who seek to frame the conversation will come to understand that if we aren’t ALL embraced, none of us are.

      Reply

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  18. Jackie Fox
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 07:48:20

    Bravo! It’s like jumping on women for choosing to like pink or support groups we don’t agree with. We have to do this our own way. I personally don’t care for the word victim but if you think of a victim as one who had something done to her against her consent then aren’t we all? Did any of us sign up for cancer? And what can we possibly hope to gain by jumping on someone for not calling herself by the “right” name? Argh!!! And it’s not just cancer. I see it in everything from how you raise your kids to what type of vehicle you drive or house you live in. I find it very sad. Enough already!

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 10, 2013 @ 18:59:34

      YES, YES, YES! It’s about so many things! But in the end it is about judgement. Thank you, Jackie, for making that point so crystal clear!

      Reply

  19. BlondeAmbition
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 19:46:32

    Wonderful post (and discussion) here … appreciate reading everyone’s point of view. As for me, I don’t like labels — even calling people conservative or liberal in this day and age is a hot button. Everything is a spectrum. As a point of reference, I’m also not keen on term “survivor” and don’t care for war metaphors when discussing cancer. I’ve never considered myself a cancer victim (nor am I a “victim” of the economy because I am unemployed). To me, it suggests blame and a certain amount of powerlessness and that’s not how I choose to identify.

    And while I concur that none of us has the right to judge how another person self-identifies, I think Jody raised a very interesting point: “An individual’s reaction to her cancer tells us a lot about who she is and the kind of support she might need.” I have to agree with this and (sincerely hoping it doesn’t offend anyone) I’ll take it a step further: It may also tell us something about who the person was pre-cancer.

    There are people out there who are emotionally needy, lonely, etc. — and were so before they were diagnosed with cancer (or any other ailment). As unseemly as it may be, they bask in the sympathy of their cancer diagnosis and being the center of attention through any means — and calling themselves a “victim” suits that purpose. I witnessed this firsthand a number of times in my support group as well as some BC-related introductions. Everyone in the group had cancer; no one was “unique”. As such, the label came across as a perverse form of “playing the card” — but among peers — and you’re simply not going to garner much pity from any group in which everyone is dealing with the same thing. It was disturbing to witness, especially because some piled on in a subliminal game of “who had it worse”. Net-net: incredibly demoralizing.

    My point is that while some people may genuinely think of themselves as a “victim” for complex reasons that pre-date their diagnosis, others may be doing so simply for the attention they receive. Again, I hope that didn’t offend anyone, but similar to people who “fake” a cancer diagnosis, sometimes it’s all about the attention — even if it’s pity.

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 11, 2013 @ 09:41:50

      Thanks for your comments! I agree that labels don’t always help us, but they are sometimes helpful in keeping the dialogue flowing

      I also agree with you and Jody – which labels we choose does speak to our self-identification in many ways.

      I would, however, challenge you to rethink how you hear the word “victim.” Our culture has conditioned us to hear it as needy or weak, but that is now how it is defined. And I wonder what someone who identifies as a “cancer victim” feels if she doesn’t take on that cultural identity but finds it thrust upon her by others. Sometimes, I am certain, it is nothing more than her cultural context that causes her to chose that word rather than another. Other times she may simply not by into the weakness part. Either way, when we look at her and judge her as weak or needy it is US and not she who should be rethinking the language because we automatically close ourselves off, send the message that she doesn’t have the right attitude, tell her in subtle ways that she doesn’t belong in this “strong” group of women.

      Reply

  20. Jane
    Mar 11, 2013 @ 06:33:05

    I chose the term cancer victim for myself, not because I’m predisposed to being victimized, but because I feel as though I’ve been attacked. One year ago I was fine, looking forward to a summer of kayaking and hiking. Never happened because I was attacked by breast cancer. I can’t get justice from my attacker, but I can learn to cope with the scars ( emotional and physical) that remain. I think, for me, it is more empowering, and more emblematic of the long journey that remains ahead, coping with what is left, waiting to see if the attacker returns, for the rest of my life. Not overtly, just nervously glancing over my shoulder with each scan or appointment.
    Jane

    Reply

    • Lori
      Mar 11, 2013 @ 09:44:33

      This is very much how I feel, Jane. I identify with the “out of no where and for no reason whatsoever” assault that cancer thrust upon me. I also identify with the words survivor, thriver, patient, and I’m sure more. And like you, I am not weak, or seeking pity, nor do I lack confidence and determination. It’s all a matter of perspective and our choice to be open.

      Reply

    • Cancer Curmudgeon
      Mar 11, 2013 @ 11:20:06

      I agree with you 100% Jane. I wish to use the word victim because cancer happened to me, I did not invite it, and it is sooooo not my fault I got it. Now I’m gonna “happen” to cancer by making a stink about how it is researched and treated, and everything else I find objectionable. Hardly the behavior of someone weak, I should hope, although some might accuse me trying to get attention (to which I say hell yes–not for me personally, but in order to improve the lot of all cancer patients).

      Reply

  21. Trackback: Hierarchy | Lois Hjelmstad
  22. Trackback: Changing the Meaning | anotheronewiththecancer
  23. http://mariatfowler.blogspot.com/
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 13:36:03

    I’m a little late with my comments but I wanted to say something on this topic. Naturally, people can identify themselves in any way they chose. I think a label says more about the kind of person you are then about what happened to you so self-labeling can be a kind of way to announce who you are in one quick word or two.

    Personally, while by definition, I may be a victim and also by definition a survivor (well, not yet) I’m just never going to be comfortable with either label. Being a victim implies that I have no control and a survivor implies I have total control. While I may be a victim of the cancer in one sense I am not ready to give into the idea that being a victim of cancer is a permanent condition. There are plenty of ways in which i take back control through my decisions and attitude. I’m not just going to allow the tag victim to be hung on my neck and left throughout treatment and recovery. In my mind the cancer was the slap in the face when you get the DX, what I do with that slap is entirely up to me. I personally wouldn’t bother to get out of bed if I thought I had no choice in the matter and it was completely out of my control.

    So, the same thing goes with survivor. I’ll just jump on the bandwagon with the women before me who have said that the word survivor also implies a level of control i simply don’t have over the situation. Or it implies that through sheer will power and personal control that I can kill cancer. For one thing it is such great insult to the women we have all known who succumbed to this disease- almost calling them out for being too weak or not as strong as others. It’s ridiculous.

    And my final point falls somewhere in between. Between the discussion of becoming a victim and being a survivor what is there then? I’ve had a tumor removed, DO I HAVE cancer? When I am bald and having treatment DID I HAVE cancer? When does I have cancer begin and end and when can I say I had it but no longer? I had cancer, then chemo, the rads then a few weeks of “it’s all behind you now and then…… I had cancer again, cancer I really always had through treatment and radiation etc… so no I had another tumor removed DO I HAVE cancer or DID I HAVE cancer?
    How do I know if I am a victim or a survivor if I don’t know where I am on this timeline?

    The way I see it I refuse to be a victim out of pure contempt for the idea (whether it is true or not) and I’ll be a Breast Cancer Survivor the day I die of something else and not one day before. In the mean time I’m just another human with problems and issues like we all face through our lives and I’m Ok with that.
    Maria

    Reply

  24. Thomas
    Mar 22, 2013 @ 21:17:53

    Thank you for adding to the awareness and support of cancer. I’ve written two songs, one about cancer and one about going through trials and looking back on them. Reaching out for support and help, and the joy of having come up through affliction. Here are the links I hope you find them connecting, and possibly helpful. Cancer Song-Not a Scarlet Letter: http://youtu.be/GcSJJoUHL_0 Scars In My Eyes: http://youtu.be/QT1S27bxFdk

    Reply

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