Ok, another birthday under my belt and another year cancer free. Can I call myself "cancer free"? I guess I can call myself anything I damn well please. I celebrate each birthday because I don't know what the future holds but I do know that today I am still alive and that is the best cause for celebration. Apparently, cancer free is a relative term because no one really knows if they are cancer free for many, many years. The reason is that cancer cells are microscopic and hide out in the body for an undetermined amount of time and than reappear months or years later. However, the longer one goes without the cancer recurring, the more likely that they are that it will not relapse, but alas, there are no guarantees. According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rate for non-metastatic breast cancer (breast cancer that has not spread beyond the breast) is 80%. Newspapers and television usually translate that to, "If you've survived for five years, you're cancer-free." This is a bit misleading. It's true that during the first five years, the risk of recurrence is highest. But breast cancer can recur even after five years. The important point to know is that the more time passes, the lower the risk of recurrence becomes.
It's hard to talk about being a breast cancer survivor, because there is still no cure. My doctor may say that I am in remission. Or that I am NED - No Evidence of Disease. The National Cancer Institute defines a cancer survivor this way: "An individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis, through the balance of his or her life." A recent poll asked, "When Do You Become a Breast Cancer Survivor?" The options were: at diagnosis, after surgery, at the end of treatment, after your 5-year checkup, or whenever you say you are a survivor. More than half of all responses favored the idea that you are a survivor when you say you are - not based on the opinion of others, not measured by medical milestones, not codified by your culture - but based solely on your own declaration. I started surviving the minute I was diagnosed and while the term survivor is great, I feel I become a warrior. I went to war and won. Hear that CANCER, I WON!!!