I Don’t Use the Word “Survivor”

Elaine CostelloBy Elaine Costello, BCAction member living with breast cancer 

There was a time, if someone mentioned the name Barbara Brenner, I would think about the humorous and easygoing woman whom I often joined at the theater along with Suzanne, her beloved partner.

However, while I was being treated for a very aggressive form of breast cancer, I got to know the Barbara Brenner that most of you already knew.

Barbara Brenner, the feisty breast cancer advocate who led Breast Cancer Action for 15 years and demanded the absolute best for women living with and at risk for breast cancer. 

Barbara Brenner

Barbara Brenner, the feisty breast cancer advocate who led Breast Cancer Action for 15 years.

As I went through 18 grueling months of chemotherapy, I was way too sick to get actively involved with Breast Cancer Action. During that time, the people I talked to most about breast cancer were the women I saw every week at the infusion center. We were concerned about a lot of issues, including the use of the word “survivor” as each of us struggled with the possibility that we might not survive—no matter how hard we tried.

I finally ‘got it’ when I read Barbara’s article in the BCAction newsletter about why she didn’t use the word “survivor.” She wrote: “The term survivor suggests to the world—wrongly—that breast cancer is curable. It is true, thank goodness, that many of us will live long enough to die of something else. But no one who has been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer can ever say truthfully that the cancer will not recur.”

Few, if any, breast cancer organizations publicly talk as frankly and truthfully about this disease as Breast Cancer Action. As I shared Barbara’s article with my infusion center friends, her words helped us to talk about the way words like “survivor’ really burden many of us living with breast cancer.

Donate whatever you can today — $25, $50 $100 or more — so Breast Cancer Action can carry forward Barbara’s legacy of fearless truth-telling on behalf of all women living with breast cancer.

Over the years, I become more involved with Breast Cancer Action. I served on the Board for six years. Breast Cancer Action helped me understand my diagnosis, my treatment options as well as my ongoing life after treatment. And I used my own personal experiences to create change for other women living with and at risk of breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Action is a unique organization founded on a tradition of asking important, often difficult, questions, challenging assumptions about this disease so that we can move forward, and carrying the voices of women living with breast cancer, like me, and those at risk of the disease. They can do this because they don’t take corporate funding from pharma or any other company that contributes to cancer. I hope you’ll join me in making a year-end gift today.

P.S. If you wish to restrict your donation to the Barbara Brenner Rapid Response Fund, donate here so BCAction can carry on Barbara’s legacy in responding rapidly, accurately, truthfully and fearlessly to crucial issues in the breast cancer movement. 

This entry was posted in BCA Action Alerts, BCA News, E-Alerts.