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Erin Cummings: Last night’s Academy Awards got me thinking…  On Being a Cancer Survivor, “Barbie Style”
Mar 14, 2024, 22:11

Erin Cummings: Last night’s Academy Awards got me thinking… On Being a Cancer Survivor, “Barbie Style”

Erin Cummings, Founder and Executive Director of

“Last night’s Academy Awards got me thinking…

On Being a Cancer Survivor, “Barbie Style”- America Ferrera’s monologue about womanhood in the movie “Barbie” nailed it for me. Her description of the constant state of conflict that women often find themselves in was spot on. It hit home in another way though. It reminded me of the years I have spent wrestling with cancer survivorship.

From the time that I was diagnosed, over fifty years ago now, I have never been sure about how to behave. Do I put on a brave face, no matter what? Am I allowed to be scared, or to feel sorry for myself? If I do, will that count against me somehow?

It seems to me that the unwritten rules for surviving cancer are pretty screwed up. For example,

1. You must be a good soldier, a courageous warrior, but in the end, someone will write that you ‘lost your battle.” (Does that mean that I didn’t try hard enough? Does that make me a loser?)

2. You should be positive and hopeful, if only because your loved ones need you to be. (You are carrying the weight of their expectations, their worst fears, not just your own). You should be optimistic, but not too optimistic because then you would be in denial.

3. You should not complain- not about the horrible hospital food, the hours of waiting at a doctor’s office, or a technician butchering a blood draw. This all goes with the cancer territory, and complaining doesn’t make it go away, it just puts you at risk of getting ignored, or worse, getting labeled as a “bad patient.” (“No soup for YOU!”) However, if you don’t speak up, then you are not “advocating” for yourself, and that could make you look weak. (And remember, survivors are supposed to be strong! Always!)

4. You are allowed to be angry, but not too angry because then you might appear ungrateful. For example, you can bemoan the fact that your earlier treatments have cost you dearly, but then you might come across as unappreciative and self-centered. After all, you’re still alive. You should be happy, right?

5. You should be knowledgeable about late effects and be proactive about your health care, but you shouldn’t dwell on it, lest you be considered a pessimist.

6. You can think about dying from time to time, but not too much, lest you be considered obsessed with death.

7. You can be the hero of your own cancer story but remember that another survivor may have an even more heroic tale to tell. In that case, you cannot be jealous that they have a better story because, in a twisted way, it just means that you are envious of the fact that they may have suffered more than you did. (Better to set your sights on climbing Mt. Everest and rewrite your cancer story).

I’m afraid that I may never figure this out. I may never get it right. On the other hand, rules were made to be broken- especially the unwritten ones. Maybe we should give ourselves a break. Cancer survivorship is already tough. Let’s not make it worse.”

Source: Erin Cummings/LinkedIn