My name is Sabrina Fuoco and I am a five-time cancer survivor. I have been battling this grueling illness for 31 years: as a child, teenager and young adult. Over the years, cancer has taken my health, my hair, my energy, chunks of my body and sometimes even my sanity – but it has also given me a gift – to live life meaningfully and with great urgency. Not knowing whether I have months or years to live has forced me to live life in the moment and enjoy the present.
Over the past few years, I have reflected on the terms people use to describe their life with cancer. I initially tried to write a ‘glossary’ of the terms: hero, warrior, fighter, veteran, graduate, survivor, victim or living with cancer.
In trying this out with a few friends, one having gone through a comparable experience, one not, it did not work. People adopt different terms at different stages; a journey approach captures this better than an analytical approach.
Rather than the Kubler-Ross1 five stages (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance), written for the terminally ill, I find the William Bridges framework in Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes more helpful. Bridges talks about three phases: ending (or losing and letting go), the neutral zone (in between, or ambiguous phase), and the new beginning (acceptance and embracing). Circumstances change quickly, transitions take time. This provides a convenient frame for cancer: from ‘normal’ to a new ‘normal’, which we can accept, if not embrace.