Meet Gwendolyn Mason
Survivorship is moving past staying alive and truly living...Survivorship is appreciating the world more deeply, and helping others do the same.
Is surviving simply living in spite of something fatal? If that is the case, to define “surviving”, you need to first define “living”. We typically think of something as being alive if it is still functioning. If that is how we want to define “living”, then survivorship is a simple thing: do not die. If survivorship is you still breathing when you should have stopped, why do we associate such strength with the word “survivor”? It is because living is more than being alive; surviving is more than breathing in and out.
Survivorship is the ability to make something of yourself even when everything was taken from you. It is being able to live for more than being able to say, “I survived cancer.” If you are no longer sick, but the cancer is still controlling your life, you did not survive.
Survivorship requires you to realize that you have been given a second chance at life, and then use it. I am not saying that being nervous about getting sick again is bad, because it is a valid concern that every cancer survivor is worried about. But you cannot let that fear control your life. Do not let the miracle of your healing go to waste, that is not surviving. A true survivor will be able to enjoy life again, not hide away in constant fear.
It is not easy to be a survivor. It is scary coming back into a world that hurt you so badly, but survivorship is facing it despite that fear. If being alive is your heart pumping, living is doing something about it. Living is going back out and doing things you love with people you love more. Just being alive is selfish, your mind and body are focused on self-preservation; living is altruistic, you find joy in the people you love. Survivorship is moving past staying alive and truly living. A survivor takes that experience and uses it to drive them up and out. Survivorship is appreciating the world more deeply, and helping others do the same.
I have known for a while that I want to become a child life specialist and help other kids who are in the position I once was. I have the unique experience of being on that side of the therapist-patient border that cannot be taught in any psychology class. The best thing that these kids need to help them survive is to see that it can be done, and helping them survive is what will help me hold on to survival myself.
Going through something like cancer and coming out on the other side has taught me that life really does turn on a dime. I can either hoard my life, protecting it and shielding it, or I can search for a reason for my survival. Survivorship is not still breathing in spite of something fatal, but finding something worth living for even in pain. It is accepting that you could be and should be dead, and instead of hiding in fear that it will happen again, you stand up and try to understand what you missed the first time around.
I did not survive cancer when I stopped chemo and radiation therapy. I did not survive when I was declared 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years cancer-free. I survived when I went to school. I survived when I made friends. I survived when I got my first job. I survived when I applied and got into college. I am surviving when I go to Walmart to get a birthday present for my sister. I am surviving when I bake a cake with my cousins for no reason. I am surviving when I paint in the dark with my friends when the power goes out. Survivorship is leading a life that is built on all the little things that bring you joy, instead of letting your world revolve around some long-gone sickness.