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We all attribute meaning to words based on the context in our lives. The word survivor has been bestowed upon those who live with a chronic or life-threatening illness. However, the word “survivor”, often, also describes those who have been the victim of traumatic events like violence and natural disasters.

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the bombing at last year’s Boston Marathon. There have been lots of interviews, television programming, and of course tributes to those who died in this horrific event, and an opportunity to celebrate the way the amazing city of Boston banned together.

This is why I was surprised when I was listening to an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. Gross was interviewing noted author Barbara Ehrenreich about her new book. At one point in the interview Gross asked Ehrenreich about her 2001 diagnosis with breast cancer. The dialogue took a surprise turn in comparison to many who have been diagnosed with an illness; she was a rebel.

Ehrenreich started by dismissing the “pink” movement as it relates to breast cancer. She’s determined not to die with a pink teddy bear in her arms. She didn’t want to be associated with a specific movement feeling that it’s an insult to the integrity of people facing illness. Whether or not you believe it’s a positive depends on your own identity issues, need to belong to something bigger than yourself, or the opportunity to support an organization that provides support, screening, and research in the breast cancer arena. This dialogue was not the surprise; it was her discussion about not wanting to be called a “survivor”.

Terry Gross dug deeper into the anti-survivor rhetoric by asking Ehrenreich to express her disapproval of being called a “survivor”. Ehrenreich shared that she believes the word “survivor” implies that someone was courageous, brave, and successful beat the disease. Her problem is that she feels that it’s dishonoring all those people who were equally courageous and brave, but whose bodies and treatment regimen didn’t match for the positive. She doesn’t want to diminish any of the positive qualities those who face an illness exhibit.

So is there a difference between surviving and being a “survivor”? What are your ideas on being a survivor? Please share your experience in the comments section below.

For more information on living with chronic and/or life-threatening illness visit http://www.survivingstrong.com

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