I've asked several women IRL what they call themselves after or during cancer treatment, and a few things came up. You are a patient, waitingwaitingwaiting in hospital rooms, but that's not how I want to identify myself, as this passive patient THING that exists only within the walls of the hospital and in relation to my doctors/hospital. I am NOT patient about cancer. I am active and involved and doing this MY WAY, and I'm still me goddamit!
You belong to this new cancer tribe, but everyone who's in it was an unwilling conscription. It took almost a year for me to feel like I was a part of the tribe. There was me, unfortunately going through some temporary cancer and cancer treatment and cancer setbacks, then WAAAAAAY over there are some cancer survivors. It doesn't help that all of the language around identity and cancer seems to be either a rose-colored HeroFighterInspiration, or a besieged PatientSuffererSurvivor. I don't feel like either enough to make it my identity.
The Cancer Community is also this loose coalition of as many personalities are in any group. So sometimes you find your people, and sometimes you find weirdos. After one of my first IRL cancer events, I was feeling bad because there was this guy there I fucking hated. He dominated every conversation with his cancer story and how he had it so much worse than anyone else and he had a book or website or gofundme that he kept pushing and I didn't even want to BE there and then there's this fucking asshole (who I'm sure was going through a lot, but I didn't have it in me to deal sympathetically with anyone else when IJUSTGOTDIAGNOSEDWITHCANCER!). Anyway, my sister on the walk home said "Just because he has cancer doesn't mean he's not also an asshole. It's ok not to like him."
The point is, what we call ourselves is tied up in this community that none of us want to be in. The women I talked to, no one WANTS to really call themselves anything. They don't want to lose themselves in the larger and overwhelming identity of a cancer ANYTHING. Survivor means a lot of things to a lot of people, and trauma has already unmoored you from your identity. That's why I want a new word, one that doesn't have the weight of expectation and history. I want a word that means "I had cancer. That is all." I think words shape how we view the world and ourselves, and I want to create a better word for a world that reflects how I see cancer. I suggest:
Carcinopath: n. a person who's been through cancer. That is all. Gr: cancer+feeling. "I don't like feeling all the cancer feelings, but when you are a carcinopath, there is no way but through emotionally." See carcinescent.
Carcinage: n. a period of time in your life that was affected by cancer, a cancer journey, usually with a negative connotation due to unrelated sound-alike "carnage". Gr: the act, result or state of cancer. "Really? You had a positive carcinage? It was CANCER, right?"
Carcinal: adj. Gr: relating to cancer. "I love carcinal yoga; it's easier when the teacher knows how to modify for me."
Carcinee: n. one who receives the action of cancer. "Hospitals are full of carcinees: I swear cancer is getting more common."
Carcinescenct, carcinescence: one who is in the process of cancer, or a period in your life characterized by cancer. "I've never liked the label survivor, but I guess I am still in my carcinescence." See carcinage and carcinopath.