sur·vi·vor·ship

Winner of the National Children’s Cancer Society Essay Scholarship

/sərˈvīvərˌSHip/: the state or condition of being a survivor; survival; the probability of surviving to a particular age.

            The survivorship curve depicts the length of survival based on the species of animal, according to Wikipedia. Type one on the survivorship curve shows the human survival rate, an upwards curve until it starts to shift down towards increased mortality at a later age. However, Type three illustrates the survivorship of a frog, for example, how the rate of mortality is high early on, and then the rate of survival continues to wither away into the x-axis. It makes me wonder if I am more amphibian than human, if I will wake up one day and realize that I have become a frog; a displaced part of my family’s life, a metamorphosis of who I truly was, a mortality rate I can’t outrun.

            Survivorship feels like an out-of-body experience, a dysphoria between my cancer and the body that fought it away. The person I was when I had cancer floated away and lingers, like a sneeze, over my head. At the time of my diagnosis, it was hard to picture dying from cancer, as well as living after cancer. My body had become so used to the touch of needles, the wind in the PET SCAN, the heat from the X-ray machine, that I was scared to leave that life behind; the ring of replacement moves on.

            There are three phases of survivorship, according to Cancer.net. Acute survivorship begins at diagnosis and continues through treatment. Extended survivorship ends at treatment through the extended months afterwards. “Permanent” survivorship extends years past treatment, where is “less of a chance that the cancer may come back”. I hate that word, permanent, it’s meaning is based around misconceptions and altered perceptions of living. Even years after diagnosis, that worry doesn’t go away, it decides to mold and fester like a smell in fridge you can’t seem to locate. Cancer taught me that nothing in life, even survivorship and cancer, are permanent. The people who wrote this didn’t realize the paradox of the word; I wonder if they ever had cancer.

            I still live in the acute survivorship, even though my cancer hasn’t resurfaced in a few years. My mind is still there, still in the time of diagnosis and I can’t seem to extend past those months. The oven alarm still makes me jump because it reminds me of the sleepless nights caused my IV pole’s melodic beeping. The taste of blue Gatorade makes my stomach swirl. The smell of aloe shampoo, pink kitchen ware, Jennifer Aniston rom coms, her and Vince Vaughn fighting over ice cream and a potential affair I think, cooking shows, large needles, coloring books, they are all jarring. Each thing has a memory tied to cancer, and it’s tarnished how I love these objects. I feel that I have barely survived, my level of growth no larger than a 45-degree angle, and it’s something that never goes away permanently.

            Last year, you had the same prompt for this essay: what does survivorship mean to you? I know this is a cancer scholarship, but why pick an idea that practically doesn’t exist? You don’t survive cancer, even if it no longer fills flows through your body. You live with it, you deal with it, you struggle with it; survivorship is as useless of a word as permanent because it means nothing when there is nothing there. Survivorship gives you similar feelings to having cancer: grief, confusion, depression, anxiety, guilt, except there it’s more unknowing with surviving. I think I felt more whole when I had cancer because it seemed so clear and straight-forward, this webbed tumor had an agenda. Now, I am lost. My body is here but unfamiliar, like I discarded the old and inhabited a new one. Now feeling human doesn’t feel right, perhaps I was a frog and no one even noticed.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY RACHEL KISER

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