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Does anyone else feel like a "cheater" when they say survivor?

Kwilliams630's picture
Posts: 10
Joined: Aug 2011

Hi everyone, I am new to the network. I stumbled across it today and i am so happy to be here and be a member! I had RCC and had an open partial nephrectomy on August 10th. Almost 2 weeks ago. I was diagnosed in July, and after surgery am said to now be cancer free!

There has been something weighing heavily on my mind and i can't seem to shake it or the feeling that comes with it. I feel like, i'm cheating when i call myself a survivor. I think i feel that way because i didn't have to do any chemo or radiation, and i feel like i really didn't have to "fight". Found the mass in May, biopsy finally in July and Surgery to remove it in August. Granted this recovery has been so very hard and i have been suffering a great deal, i still feel like i cheated the system almost. Does that make sense? Or am i crazy? I feel lucky and blessed and so grateful that i didn't have to do any type of treatments. I just feel like when i say survivor i'm taking something away from the ones that have had to Fight very hard for their lives. It's almost like i feel guilty that i had it so "easy", or easy compared to what they went through or are going through. This gnaws at me and at my heart daily since i've gotten home from the hospital and i was just wondering if there was anyone else out there who experienced these feelings.

Thanks for reading and i wish you all a life filled with peace and joy, love and LAUGHTER.


icemantoo's picture
Posts: 2583
Joined: Jan 2010

Dear K,

You just had major surgery for something that left unchecked causes death. Hopefully you will have no further treatments for the rest of your life. You will still have to watch things as living without 2 functioning kidneys can cause problems down the road. Besides don't you want the free t-shirt for survivors at the Relay for Life events.

Best wishes frm one survivor to another,


Kwilliams630's picture
Posts: 10
Joined: Aug 2011

I feel like a survivor, I'm surviving this entire process, and all the pain and emotions that are involved but its like I feel guilty for saying it. Or feeling like a survivor. Maybe I am crazy, I dont know and I dont know how to handle or deal with this feeling. Im also trying to explain the way i feel but am having trouble so i hope this is making sense :( Thanks again to anyone who reads or responds. Means a lot!

Kwilliams630's picture
Posts: 10
Joined: Aug 2011

Thanks for the reply!! It means a lot, it really does. And I really do want that free t shirt :) I know I'm being confusing, "I don't feel like a survivor" I do feel like a survivor" the truth is I'm so conflicted about this that I almost don't even know how I feel! I'm really struggling with this and I don't know why. I feel like I'm losing my mind LOL

Posts: 85
Joined: Jun 2011

Hey K, I went into a denial phase, it was kind of like a dream. It was not until surgery, recovery, and going over the pathology report in which the reality settled in.

Some have problems saying cancer, I was one. I had cancer, cancer does not have me, and that makes me a survivor in my mind.


KatfromFlorida's picture
Posts: 66
Joined: Aug 2011

Dear K:

My upcoming surgery is next month so I still have the cancer ... I have been told that it is in the early stages and a good thing but its still cancer and I will be much happier once its gone. Reading some of the stories in this forum with regard to what some other folks are going through does make my heart and soul hurt and I pray alot for all of us. Feeling guilty about having a type of cancer that may not be as bad as someone elses is not really something you personally have any kind of control over. Its not in our hands. Being a survivor to me is about making it through all of our lives, good and bad, with cancer or cancer free and learning what we can from our own experiences which makes us all survivors either way right? Give yourself a break :) Your body is still healing after major surgery and its learning to live on part of a once healthy organ maybe not as bad as it could most certainly be but still not the greatest of adventures. I hope that your recovery is swift and I send my best to you...

Many Hugs

Kwilliams630's picture
Posts: 10
Joined: Aug 2011

BG and Kat, I appreciate your replies and comments so much. Its so amazing to me how there are so many of us and how we all have our own unique things that we are going through and yet we all go through some of the exact same things as well. I'm grateful for this network! BG I don't think I was ever in denial, but I Definately was in shock. I do remember when I said " I have cancer" it sounded so foreign to me and actually made me nauseous. It was not an easy thing to say so I can understand that! Kat, what you said makes perfect sense and it's really helped me. I guess when it comes down to it what really matters is that we are all on this journey, we're on this journey together and even though we are all at different points, we're all just trying to survive it, survive cancer and all it entails and survive life. I hope to one day move past these emotions im having and to come to terms with it all. I'm staying positive and trying to make the best out of each obstacle.This site is a blessing. What a great way to be in touch with others who you can relate to you. I am thinking of you Kat and sending lots of love and prayers for a speedy recovery. Keep us posted please! I had to wait almost 2 months between finding the cancer and my surgery due to insurance issues, I was in your shoes just a couple of weeks ago, so I know how hard the wait is! Hang in there, once it's gone the feeling is amazing! Wanted to let you all know I'm always here to listen or talk as well. I think supports so important and is a great aid in recovery/survival.

Lots of love to all,

jhsu's picture
Posts: 80
Joined: Sep 2009

We all need to adjust our lives to face it and deal with it.

To me, once the RCC switch is flipped on it stays on until the day I die. I may or may not die of the cause, but when the time comes I would like to go peacefully.

Give yourself a break, enjoy your every day's life. Because every new day has been and will be your "birthday" since.


Posts: 71
Joined: Aug 2011

I feel the same way. I have a good friend who had colon cancer - had surgery, chemo, radiation, lost her hair, couldn't work, etc. I don't feel like what I have can even compare - all I do is lay there while a doctor removes my tumor and all or part of my kidney. I don't feel like a survivor because I don't even feel like I have cancer! I never say I have cancer, I tell people that I am having surgery to remove a tumor in my kidney. Maybe I will feel differently after the surgery, I don't know. A couple of days ago I received a Get Well card in the mail, and it was surreal. Then last night I was at a baseball game and I felt like I didn't deserve the get well card, because I'm not sick.

There are crazy emotions right now I suppose, but you are not alone!


donna_lee's picture
Posts: 754
Joined: Feb 2009

Today is a more casual day at the office because I have to work in the truck shop and I wore my 2011 Relay for Life purple survivor shirt.
I ran into an acquaintance at the coffee shop before work and she commented on it, and I said I'd survived a couple of times(original Stage IV Kidney cancer and 2 recurrences, but didn't say what kind). She said she'd had a basal cell spot removed from the side of her nose and had been really concerned about disfigurement. I smiled and said I was glad she was doing OK now.

So yes, I consider myself a survivor. But do I have doubts at times? You bet!
I never say I'm cured or in remission. Just that since the most recent surgery, there is NED (No Evidence of Disease) and the next test will be in XYZ months. As a matter of fact in 3 weeks & 2 days, but who's counting. Thus far, I'm 3 years NED and looking forward to many more.

I know that the doctors, etc. compile statistics, but it is truly amazing how many people do survive and walk around to talk about it. At 68, I'm old enough to remember the semi-whispered stories about people my parents knew who had cancer. At the time, it wasn't diagnosed until it was full blown and they were ready for hospital care from all the other complications. My grandmother died when I was 9, I was allowed to see her one time when she was hospitalized, and we have no idea where the cancer started other than it had invaded various organs in the abdomen.
And there was a friends daughter who developed breast cancer in her last year of law school (who would be in her early 70's today). I was told the suspected cause of her cancer was the bruising and constant carrying of heavy law books against her chest for the previous years.
We have come a long way from those days and I'm so glad.

Talk about it, answer questions, support others in the emotional journey, smile and laugh, play with the grandkids, pet the cat. Be a survivor. I AM.

Minnesota Girl's picture
Minnesota Girl
Posts: 115
Joined: Jul 2011

K -

I had this EXACT SAME conversation with my husband, especially just before my surgery. I've worked the Survivor's tent at Relay for years, and was even chairing this year before my diagnosis. I KNOW that those folks have gone through and if "ALL" I had to do was have an operation, did I really have the right to stand with them?? I looked and felt completely healthy until the day I walked in to surgery - I wasn't sick!

My attitude gradually changed after surgery, especially because the recovery was so much harder than any other surgery I've had. Plus, I think anyone who deals with the emotions of being told "You have cancer" IS a survivor.

My husband and I keep asking each other (and even asked my oncologist!!) if we should say I HAVE cancer or I HAD cancer. The best the doc could tell us is that I had my kidney removed due to cancer and I'm under surveillance. He told me I'd have to go 15 years without recurrence to be out of the woods.

At this point, it looks like I'm cancer free, but I sure don't feel comfortable saying that for sure. Maybe a few clean CTs will give me more comfort. I'm going back to work on Monday, so this thread really hits a nerve. I know people will want to know I'm 'cured' but I just don't know what to say...

Posts: 105
Joined: Feb 2009

i agree with minnesota girl, if you've been told you have cancer and then have surgery/treatment for that cancer, consider yourself a survivor.
i have had two different cancers in last 6 years, both stage 1 and for now am cancer free.
with bc had surgery,chemo,radiation. with kidney, just surgery. hell yes, i am a survivor. my sister had basal cell skin cancer, does she consider herself a cancer survivor, i don't know, i've never heard her refer to herself as such. but i usually don't go around saying it that much either, if it comes up i'll usually just say i had cancer too.
but i do consider myself as having survived it. and i've walked in the survivors lap at relay with other people who've had it worst than me and some not as bad as me but we've all been thru it.
when people ask if you're cured, say i'm in remission. your right, most people want everything to be ok and cured but in my experience most people feel uncomfortable talking about cancer and the ones that push it, you don't have to feel obligated to tell them more than you want to. i don't.
and take it one day at a time. its all we really can do. if we look too far ahead we'll go crazy with fear and worry. believe me i have had my days and still do where a thought will pop into my head and i'm paralyzed with fear. but now they pass more quickly than they used to and i can get back to my life. the way i look at it is God has given me this day to live and be happy and enjoy and i would be ungrateful if i didn't do just that.
Good health to all.

garym's picture
Posts: 1651
Joined: Nov 2009

Dear K,

I think the guilt you feel is a pretty normal reaction for those of us who have had the "easy" fight but you should not feel badly about being called a survivor. To me its not that survivor is to big of a word for us but rather to small of a word for those that fight so much longer and harder to live!! Three years before I was diagnosed with rcc I watched my son go through (successful) chemo and radiation treatments for Hodgkin's disease, to me he is something bigger than just a survivor and most of us probably know others that we feel the same way about. I guess what I am saying is that there are different levels of survival, some, like us, are simply "survivors" while others deserve a higher hero/survivor level.

Regardless of how we got here we are all brothers and sisters to a degree that only those who have had and survived cancer truly understand. I have two purple T's and God willing I'll have a drawer full before I can no longer be called a survivor, cherish every one you get.


Posts: 1
Joined: Oct 2017

this is 6 years late, but I find myself in the exact same position as you. I had an open partial nephrectomy 4 weeks ago, and I just don't feel like I am a "cancer survivor" because I didn't have to fight for it. 

Bay Area Guy's picture
Bay Area Guy
Posts: 182
Joined: Jun 2016

I consider myself a cancer survivor.  I had a lesion that, if left undiscovered and untreated, would have caused my death and would have caused me and my family untold pain while that death unfolded.  That it was small and the treatment was relatively straightforward (if not painless) does not change the fact that I survived cancer.  If someone is discovered to have a blocked artry that could lead to a heart attack and perhaps death, and has bypass surgery or an angioplasty to take care of the blockage, wouldn't you consider that the person has survived that?

You're definitely a survivor!


AnnissaP's picture
Posts: 73
Joined: Sep 2017

Interesting thought! I read an article by a woman who had cancer. She refused to say she was fighting it. She said she did nothing to fight it. It came on it's own and all she did was show up for the treatments. Her body responded the way it wanted to without her control. She said she did not like to say she was fighting it or putting up a good fight bc what about those who have died? She said does that mean they did not fight hard enough? Absolutely not! I agree with her thinking and I completely understand what you mean. You find out you have cancer, have no symptoms, have the surgery then move on. It is like a whirlwind. A little blip in the radar. For me, it has been an eye-opener bc cancer comes in many forms and has many looks. My dad withered away and died looking horribly skinny and sick. I have cancer, but still jog, exercise and work. It is not always a death sentence or it will not always end life as we know it. I guess I was ignorant to how many different types of cancer there are and the different treatments available. It is more vast than I could have imagined. Afterall, some people live with a slow-growing cancer for the rest of their lives never having it affect them. So to consider myself a survivor????? I don't look at it that way. If I had a brush with death and lived I would say yes, I survived. This surgery though....as tough as it will be I think I will say I "experienced" cancer ;-)

Posts: 28
Joined: Aug 2017

I had a total nephrectony on September 19th to take out a tumor 3.5 cm and I feel the same way. The word cancer makes me ill but I don't know if I'm cancer free or not since we all will be on surveillance for most of our lives. I'm glad it was caught early but worried since I now only have one kidney and fear the cancer returning since I don't know what caused it.

foxhd's picture
Posts: 3023
Joined: Oct 2011

They say they don't really think that they are survivors. Because others aren't so lucky. Hey, Congratulations! For people like me who hope to hang on as long as I can, I could not be happier for all of you. Please don't squander your good fortune. The rest of us need your karma. We do this together.

lcsvb's picture
Posts: 40
Joined: Jan 2016

Because many of us here had to have only one surgery that cured us, it gives hope for others to see that it is not always a long process to get rid of that beast! I am just as nervous (after my stage 1 diagnosis and partial nephrectomy Jan 2016) that it may resurface elsewhere as someone who had to endure chemo and radiation. We all fight every single day to keep fear at bay regardless of the way we beat it. We are survivors! 


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