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There’s More to Being a Cancer Survivor

By: Kristine Alarcon

Edited by: Juliana Zhu, Esq.

When Debra Jarvis was a chaplain for the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy, received chemotherapy, and is now cancer-free. As she was going through her treatment and surviving, she believed that the medical and science components of fighting cancer were important, but that what is even more important is to incorporate “feelings and faith and coping and meaning and evolving.” For Jarvis, the treatment was just a small, but essential, part of her life. She would go into receive the treatment, but then her everyday life was waiting for her; it was never on pause.

While she was a chaplain, she was able to relate more with her patients, who were cancer survivors. They could share advice and their experiences, but Jarvis felt a little disconnected from her patients. It was the label of being a survivor. Jarvis realized that she was not just a cancer survivor since she also survived many other things, though she doesn’t wear a label for each of those things.

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The label as a cancer survivor often dictates how a survivor should feel and what their experience should mean, Jarvis believes. She was told that she was going to ruminate over her life, participate in walks, and wear the pink ribbon. Jarvis felt that this label was swallowing her and taking over her life. It was then that she told herself, “Claim your experience. Don’t let it claim you.”

She wanted to learn and grow from the experience. However, the trouble with that is that cancer survival is a single-minded pursuit. The process towards a cancer-free life does not allow enough time to think about it. The time after completing treatment is the only time when a survivor can process the experience, but by that time a survivor is already labeled. Jarvis does not mean that the cancer survivor label is a negative one. She knows that winning the cancer battle is something to be proud of, but she had patients who were even more proud that their child graduated from college. Jarvis believes that if a person holds onto the cancer survivor label for his or her entire life, that person will not grow.

Jarvis does admit that being a cancer survivor can be empowering. It provides cancer survivors the opportunity to rethink their lives. She says they can “end bad relationships, throw out the things they never wanted, quit jobs they never really liked.” Cancer, in a way, allowed them to live a better life and be more expressive about themselves.

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Kristine Alarcon graduated at the University of San Francisco with a Bachelors of Science in Biology. She is working towards certification in Sterile Processing and Distribution. She is a Social Media Assistant at Cancer InCytes Magazine.



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