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We Are Cancer Survivors, Not Cancer Victims

Posted Feb 15 2010 12:48pm

©Survivorship Media Network, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Recently someone referred to me as a cancer victim, at which point I nearly came unglued. To some extent our society and the 24/7 up close and personal media wants to color everyone who has ever had a tragedy in their lives with the victim crayon. While I have had my share of tragedy I have never been a victim and don’t intend to start now, and if you are reading this, I am virtually certain you feel the same way.

I think of victims as people who are found murdered in alleyways or have their identity and social security numbers stolen by thugs in search of a quick buck. Survivors are those of us who have heard the words “you have cancer” and continue to move forward. We persevere even in the face of what may be certain death from our cancer. We continue to survive, day after day. That is what we do. We survive. We may also be mothers, fathers, accountants and movie stars, but we are first and foremost survivors.

When most of the world thinks about cancer survivors, they probably think of Lance Armstrong who, without a doubt, is the cancer survivor most of us hope to become. When I think of cancer survivors I think of my friend Susan Pollack. We met when she volunteered to have legendary makeup artist Sandy Linter and Lancôme Cosmetics give her a makeover for some of the “Self-Image” videos on the BreastCancerSisterhood.com.

Since then I have learned Susan Pollack is an amazing woman who possesses a quiet inner strength, steadfast determination, deep love of family and friends, a nurturing compassion for other survivors and a disarming sense of humor. What started as a makeover for my website has inspired Sandy Linter and her legion of fans, the fabulous Kerry Diamond and the team at Lancôme Cosmetics, plus the women I hear from who view Sandy and Susan’s makeover videos on the BreastCancerSisterhood.com. Did I mention Sue Pollack was diagnosed with breast cancer 27 years ago and has been living with metastasis to the bone for over 14 years? Fourteen years!!! I am speechless!! In my opinion, Sue Pollack is proof of answered prayers.

When she was first diagnosed her daughter was four-years-old, and Sue prayed she would live to see her grow up or at least to grow a little bit older. Sue Pollack’s prayers were answered and for 13 years she was cancer-free. When her breast cancer came back, instead of thinking of it as a death knell, Sue decided to continue to be there for her family and for herself. As she modestly says, “I simply chose to live a life.” What she won’t tell you is that she’s done that without hair and eyebrows but with lymphedema and all the aches and pains and other indignities that come with chemotherapy, or that she volunteers at SHARE, a survivors’ resource in New York City that counsels and supports breast and ovarian cancer survivors.

For 14 years Sue Pollack has continuously taken chemotherapy. As one chemo has become ineffective, her doctor has given her another one and another. For those of you who have never had chemo, you cannot begin to imagine what this special woman has endured. Sue Pollack is an inspiration to breast cancer survivors everywhere. She is my inspiration. She is the face of, and role model for every woman who has ever had breast cancer. She has defied the odds beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. In many ways she is like Lance Armstrong: the Stage IV cancer survivor many of us hope to become.

I am certain Susan Pollack’s name is etched in God’s book of remarkable survivors whether they are survivors of the Holocaust, battlefields strewn with intrepid soldiers, or families who have endured suffering and loss. Call Susan Pollack brave and courageous but please, do not call her a victim.
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