when are you a breast cancer survivor

In actuality, this date can be arbitrary and depends on how a particular person or particular oncologist defines this. Some people celebrate the anniversary of the day they were diagnosed. Perhaps the most accurate date describing a cancerversary is the date at which definitive treatment for their cancer ended.

For example, if you have surgery alone for breast cancer, your surgery date may be your cancerversary. If you have positive nodes and have chemotherapy, the day you finish chemotherapy may be considered your cancerversary.

Defining a date can be difficult if you have metastatic breast cancer, for which treatment is ongoing. In a situation such as this, many people celebrate survivorship beginning with the day they were diagnosed.

Many cancer organizations find the current definition of cancer survivorship too broad. The definition of cancer survivor lumps those who have just been diagnosed and those who are 20-year survivors into the same group. Not all “cancer survivors” are alike.

To make where someone is at in their cancer journey a bit clear, we are now hearing different “functional” terms.

For example, those who are “acute” survivors (newly diagnosed) and those that are long-term survivors. There is also an area in the middle in which people have had their cancer for some time but are still in either active treatment, or receiving maintenance or preventive (prophylactic) treatment.

Most people who are cancer survivors will fall into the first three categories, as oncologists will rarely use the word “cured” for people with solid tumors, even if a cancer was in the very early stages of the disease. (Learn about why doctors rarely use the word cured.) Your doctor may say you are in remission or that you are NED (no evidence of disease) but with breast cancer the term cured is usually reserved for those with DCIS.

We don’t understand how breast cancer can hide and come back years or even decades later. Yet we know it does—far too often.