We asked people living with cancer how they felt when they heard themselves described as “warriors” and “survivors.” Are they happy with these labels, and do they reflect their own experiences?

HeatherHoriz

“I don't like being called a ‘warrior.’ I never feel like a ‘warrior.’ When you are dealing with the slogfest that is stage 4 breast cancer, you are pushing through each day just trying to make it through that day. It rarely feels like a massive triumph, or things that ‘warriors’ are made of.” — Mandi Hudson. Follow her on Twitter and visit Darn Good Lemonade

“On the one hand, seeing yourself as a ‘warrior’ can be a powerful affirmation which gives you a sense of meaning and identity when coping with cancer treatment. On the other hand, there are those who react against the warrior analogy which implies a level of bravery and strength we may not feel able to reach. ‘Survivor’ is an equally divisive term which some embrace as a sign of having come through the trial and survived. But what if you are living with metastatic cancer? Does the term ‘survivor’ also apply to you? What of those who have not survived the disease? Does this mean they didn’t fight hard enough to win? The concept of survivorship in this narrow sense may feel exclusionary. So, for me, the overriding feeling I have is one of respect for whichever words we choose to describe our personal cancer experience. We should be sensitive to the words we use, but also respect those who choose not to use the same words we do. It is about recognizing that we all experience cancer differently, and that there is no one way to do this." — Marie Ennis-O’Conner. Follow her on Twitter and visit Journeying Beyond Cancer

Janet

“I don't like the word 'warrior' applied to cancer patients. Cancer is a disease, not a military campaign. I didn't 'fight' cancer. I endured treatment as best I could. The women and men who die from breast cancer every day didn't 'lose the battle,' or not 'fight' hard enough. They died from an incurable disease. This is also why I feel ambivalent about the word 'survivor.' I wish there were another word for it. But the reality is that any one of us could wake up tomorrow and be diagnosed with stage 4 disease. If we 'survive' cancer, it's a day at a time.” — Kathi Kolb. Follow her on Twitter and visit The Accidental Amazon

“While I understand why people use these terms, and I have even spoken them myself, these ‘battle’ terms make me uncomfortable. While I was in the midst of cancer treatment — and stripped down to my rawest state, physically and emotionally — people would often tell me to ‘keep fighting’ or that I would ‘beat this.’ I was a ‘warrior.’ Oh, how ‘brave!’ (Umm... I didn't choose this, you guys). What they didn't seem to understand was that, by saying those things, they were insinuating that the outcome was up to me. That if I ‘have what it takes’ (whatever that is), I could ‘win.’ It seemed to be my personal responsibility to cure my own cancer. I was either going to be a winner or a loser — like I was in some sort of foot race and could just run a little faster, push a little harder. It felt like a lot to live up to, and ultimately made me feel like I would let people down if I didn't ‘win’ or ‘fight’ in the ways they had in mind. But I have to admit, there were a few times that I got into this mindset, too. In the weeks following my diagnosis, my anthem became Katy Perry's fight song "Roar." It really did help channel my feelings on what lay ahead for me: surgery and chemotherapy. But it definitely didn't sustain me. Personally, I didn't feel like I was ‘fighting’ cancer. That's what my doctors were doing. That's what the chemo was for. I was merely the battleground. That's what I wanted people to see.” — Heather Lagemann. Follow her on Twitter and visit Invasive Duct Tales

Kathi

“I’m not a big fan of battlefield language. Maybe that’s because my cancer won’t be defeated in a grand, glorious battle. It’s more of a slog. Unglamorous and incremental. To keep living, I have to live with my cancer, which isn’t an external or introduced enemy, but rather a wrong turn my body took at the genetic level. It’s easy to get hung up on semantics, and although I don’t love either word in this context, I can’t find a better, more universal word to propose. When it comes down to it, call me whatever you like, just keep the research going and find me a cure.” — Teva Harrison. Follow her on Twitter and visit Drawing Forward

“I have mixed feelings about these terms. I do not like the term ‘warrior’ because I’m a pacifist and don’t like the idea of being in a war with anyone, much less my own body. I know there are many people with stage 4 who don’t like the term ‘survivor’ because it implies you beat cancer, but I don’t mind it. I believe if you’re living and breathing, you are a survivor. I wish there was a better word for it, however. I like to say I’m living with cancer. And on a good day, ‘I’m living well with cancer.’” — Tami Boehmer. Follow her on Twitter and visit Miracle Survivors

“I do not consider myself a cancer ‘warrior.’ My cancer arose from my own cells — I cannot successfully fight against myself. I am surviving cancer, thus far, as an engaged, empowered, educated patient — an e-patient — pursuing effective treatment for my cancer. I considered myself a survivor from the moment I heard my cancer diagnosis, but I know some don’t like the term ‘survivor.’” — Janet Freeman-Daily. Follow her on Twitter and visit Gray Connections

Are you living with cancer? Tell us what you think about terms like “warrior” and “survivor.”