Cancer Survivor, Redefined

[NCSD Guest Blog Post by John Polo]

John Polo

How can a widower speak about cancer survivorship? My wife didn’t survive.

It got me to thinking: What exactly does it mean to be a cancer survivor?

Is one a survivor if they are living with the disease?

Do successful surgeries make one a cancer survivor?

How about effective chemotherapy? Or radiation? Or immunotherapy?

Clean scans? Is that what defines a survivor of this wretched disease?

Well, yes. Any of those things would indeed make one a cancer survivor …

by typical standards.

I suppose I am atypical.

Most would say that my wife is not a cancer survivor.

I would say, they are wrong.

My wife IS a Cancer Survivor.

Cancer may have taken her life, but the fight is not null and void.

Her fight, her bravery, her strength, her grace.

Her smile.

Her very being.

The beauty that was her soul.

Cancer did not take these things from my wife.

My wife may no longer be here.

Cancer may have forced her Home.

But my wife survived cancer.

Michelle survived cancer because of how she fought. Brave as could be.

Michelle survived cancer because of how she lived. Full of love.

Michelle survived cancer because of the memories and enduring legacy that she leaves behind. She will never be forgotten.

The typical definition of a cancer survivor is preferred, clearly. I hope that successful surgeries, effective therapies, and clean scans become more of the norm.

I hope that, one day, they will find a cure.

Until then, know this: Once a cancer warrior, always a cancer warrior. Once a cancer survivor, always a cancer survivor. That rank, it can never be taken away.

John Polo is a widower, stepdad, author, blogger, and motivational speaker. Shortly after he reconnected with his high school sweetheart, Michelle, she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer. Somehow, through the loss, he says he “found a better me.” And now his goal is to help others through their grief. He blogs at You can also find him on Facebook at

The National Cancer Survivors Day Foundation defines a survivor as anyone living with a history of cancer – from the moment of diagnosis through the remainder of life. But we realize that everyone has their own definition of survivor. National Cancer Survivors Day® is an opportunity for everyone who has been touched by cancer to celebrate life and to pay tribute to ALL cancer survivors – even those who are no longer with us.

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