The Meaning of Cancer Survivorship


Up until a few decades ago, the definition of cancer survivor meant “someone who had been free of signs of the disease for five years.” That’s no longer the case. Since 1986, survivorship has been defined as the full experience of having cancer – living with, through and beyond your diagnosis.

Are You a Cancer Survivor?

Because of this broader definition, you’re considered to be a cancer survivor from the time you’re diagnosed through the rest of your life. People who care for a spouse or loved one with cancer are sometimes called co-survivors. Not everyone likes the “survivor” label. You may prefer to talk about your cancer in the past tense, defining yourself as someone who had cancer. Or you may not want it to define you at all.

On the one hand, that makes perfect sense – it’s understandable to want to separate yourself from your diagnosis. But on the other, once you’re diagnosed with cancer, it’s a fundamental part of your history that will shape your experiences and inform your healthcare for the rest of your life.

I thought when I’d finished treatment—when they looked at my tests and they said it looked good—I thought, OK, I’m done. But now I’m starting to realize that it’s not over.

Cancer: A Story with Many Chapters

That’s why the founders of the National Coalition of Cancer Survivorship broadened the definition of survivorship. They saw a need for language that told the story of life after a cancer diagnosis. That story includes joy – a new appreciation for life, a sense of what matters most and stronger bonds with family and friends. And it holds challenges – fear of recurrence, financial stress and long-term effects of the disease.

For many, it’s hard to accept that cancer’s not over even when treatment is complete. Cancer has many chapters, and the goal is to live your fullest life in each of them. Your story may include:

  • A long-term, follow-up care plan with your cancer doctor and other doctors

  • Changes in diet, exercise and other aspects of your lifestyle

  • Altered relationships with friends and family

  • Ongoing physical symptoms and fatigue

  • Changes in your body image and intimate relationships

  • New ways of finding meaning and purpose

  • A new definition of quality of life

At The Ghosh Center, we’re here to help you understand what to expect from a cancer diagnosis and how to live your best life at every stage. We were first in the area to create survivorship plans for every patient, offer prehabilitation to prepare for treatment and provide free healing therapies that improve physical and emotional well-being.

In the coming weeks, we’ll talk more about survivorship and share resources to help you cope and thrive.