Is the word ‘survivor’ healthy?

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Is identifying as a breast cancer survivor harmful to your health?

A lot of women who have had breast cancer identify as survivors of the disease. There is the notion of belonging and attaching to other women who have experienced the same difficulties that creates a certain bond in their mutual suffering. I think we can all agree that every person should be able to decide what labels they feel connected to and how they want to identify themselves, and we should respect that. 

But, not all women want the survivor label stamped on them. I am one of them.

Labels are black and white, but the world we live in is more complex and colourful than that. Our identities are not formed by just one label. We are the sum of many wonderful parts of our personalities that shape us into magnificent human beings. Identifying who we are by using words like “survivor” can create a large, singular spotlight on us that leaves less room to notice all the other wonderful aspects we possess. 

Does labelling ourselves as a survivor create too much attention on an area in our lives that we should be more than happy to let go of? Like picking a scab, constantly talking about disease doesn’t allow for full healing and may be opening the door to more of the same. When we label ourselves as survivors we attach ourselves firmly to our story of pain and suffering.

My question is — does grouping together under the umbrella of survivorship actually do more harm than good? 

The power of words

Words have power and are extremely useful tools that we can use to uplift us and even heal us. They carry a specific vibratory frequency when spoken and every word has a different frequency. 

Every time we speak a word, especially one that has to do with labelling ourselves, we are creating an energetic field around us that affects the cells in our physical bodies. Our subconscious minds are like worker bees that go about making the things happen that we think and speak about the most through the law of attraction. 

The more we read, hear or speak a word, the more power it has over us. The more we say “I am a survivor,” the more we are cementing the story of pain onto our identities.

Japanese scientist, Masaru Emoto was fascinated with the power that words have so he decided to do an experiment and tested the power of the spoken word. He put two cups of cooked white rice in two separate jars and put lids on them, labeling one jar “Thank You” and the other, “You Fool.” Afterwards, he left the jars in a school classroom, and the students were asked to speak the words they saw on the label of each jar, twice a day. After one month the rice in the jar that was constantly insulted had degenerated into a black, gooey mass. The jar with the rice that was thanked was still as white and perfect as the day it was placed in the jar. 

It is important to consider the words we use to define who we are because they have strong frequencies. Unlike some people, I don’t see the word “survivor” as empowering or even positive. I see it as a sad word. I would have chosen the word, ‘conqueror’ if I had to pick. But even still, why do I need a word to identify with at all? What is the point?

When we identify as a survivor in our conversations, the underlaying verbiage is — we struggled greatly with cancer, almost didn’t make it, but somehow survived it. Even though this may be true and we may be proud that we did this, is this the discourse we want weaving through the days of our lives? Is this a good way to feel and acknowledge ourselves every day?

Perhaps it would be better to simple say we endured a health issue and we are getting better or even that we have conquered breast cancer instead of survived it, We can say things like — I now have abundant health! These words catapult us into a vibration of vitality, strength and health. 

Health affirming words and phrases we can use after cancer:

  • I used to have breast cancer but I don’t anymore.
  • Breast cancer is just one story in a lifetime of stories for me.
  • I am getting healthier every day.
  • I conquered cancer.
  • My breasts are vital and healthy.
  • I am grateful for my healing story.

Our brains use repetition to learn — searching for any sort of pattern to help us understand and make sense of the world around us. Constantly declaring that we are survivors over and over again, doesn’t seem productive. We need to be careful how we identify ourselves, because our mind is listening!

Not everyone wants to be a survivor.

Not all people who have had breast cancer want the label of survivor. A single label to identify a vast assortment of people who have had cancer, most likely will make a majority of them feel misrepresented or even alienated because the term doesn’t sit well with everyone.

Everyone who has had cancer knows it was a tough ride. But, there are plenty of diseases that are hard. Nobody identifies as a malaria survivor or an aneurism survivor, etc. What is it about cancer, and more specifically about breast cancer that makes us want to stamp this label on ourselves?

Every day, people survive all sorts of things in life, including extreme violence and wars. How do we measure the weight of difficulty? It is impossible.

After I recovered from breast cancer, I was asked to participate in a breast cancer awareness walk hosted by Cindy Crawford in Malibu, California. When I arrived, I was confronted by two separate check in options. 

Did I want to check in as a survivor or a guest? I didn’t resonate with the word “survivor” but I also didn’t think it was appropriate to check in as a guest. Eventually, I picked the survivor category. As I walked through the mountains of Malibu, I noticed people looking at me. 

I could read their thought bubbles. “Poor thing — she’s so young!” I was getting attention because I was young and looked healthy but I had a survivor sign on my back. I could feel people wanting to ask me what happened — wanting to know my story. But, I knew the more I dwelled on the cancer that I had, the more I thought about it, spoke about it, stamped it on my back — the more I was keeping it in my awareness and ultimately, my life. 

That day, I realized something important. Although my breast cancer experience had been a difficult one, I didn’t want to be labelled as a survivor. I didn’t want any labels at all!

Is it healthier to let go of our painful stories?

Holding onto the painful stories of our lives is not healthy for our minds or our bodies. The story of disease, pain and suffering all balled up into the label of ‘survivor’ is a constant reminder of our past ill health and whenever we dwell on any topic too long, the law of attraction wants to bring more of it to us. 

Our painful story keeps us tethered to the past. Perhaps it’s time to let the story go and move on with our lives.

We are complex beings and have many wonderful facets to us. We are mothers, wives, friends, professionals, artists, etc. We move fluidly throughout our day embracing each title depending on what we are doing and what hat we are wearing at the time. 

Every label we attach to, creates a vibratory frequency that can either restrict or enhance our lives.

Ask yourself:

  • Is this label necessary in order to feel good about myself?
  • Does it make me feel special by giving me unnecessary attention?
  • Is this label serving me or harming me by keeping me in the painful story of my past?
  • Who would I be without this label?
  • Labels put you in a box. But, you can unlock the box and be free!

Is it time to move on from being a breast cancer survivor?

The discourse around the word survivor is mainstream in the media, cancer fund raising and in most health care systems. News programs will automatically refer to stories of women who have had breast cancer, as survivors. The word is in the discourse of our lives, making it acceptable and even expected. But, we don’t need to follow the sheep just because it’s expected. We have a choice. 

We are all spiritual beings, moving and fluctuating, creating and manifesting. Our lives are in constant flux — shifting, changing and morphing from one thing to the next. Holding onto the story of my pain seems somewhat silly, irrelevant and potentially damaging to my health. I’d rather live free!

How about you?


Surviving breast cancer infers that we struggled greatly and almost didn’t make it. To me, it is a sad word and words have vibratory frequencies that can either enhance or harm our health and our lives. How we speak about ourselves matters because our minds are listening to the words we choose to identify with. When dealing with a potentially life threatening disease such as breast cancer, wouldn’t it be better to tell yourself that you are vibrant, healthy and free instead of a survivor which is just merely the title to your personal story of disease, pain and suffering? 

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