By Jerry Cornacchio
I titled this article ‘The Myth of Survivorship’ to highlight the need for active participation in our lives rather than just surviving. I don’t see myself as a survivor because it implies a passive role, as though I am a victim of disease and circumstances beyond my control.
I initially encountered the term “survivor” 25 years ago. It took me a while to realize that it applied to me. At first, I found comfort in the label as it took away the responsibility of my having Hodgkin lymphoma as well as the shame of being imperfect. I was an adolescent, still very unsure of my place in the world. I felt the term conflicted with my personal beliefs and life’s work.
I believe that the real challenge is to take responsibility for all aspects of our lives- the crappy childhood, the difficulties in school, the rocky relationships, and even our experiences with illness. I see myself as a participant in my own evolution, not just a victim of circumstances.
For the past 58 years, since I was 18, I have been seeking answers about my body and my Hodgkin’s diagnosis. I underwent various treatments, including a splenectomy, radiation, and X-ray therapies, but continued to experience health complications such as adhesions, bowel obstructions, endocarditis, aortic valve replacement, headaches, sterilization, congestive heart failure, hypothyroidism, chronic kidney disease, and spinal problems. I endured several visits to the emergency department, often in severe pain, only to be treated as a hypochondriac, or a junkie, all because the medical staff did not understand my condition.
Over the years, I tried to be stoic, turning to meditation to relieve the pain, but it wasn’t always successful. Sometimes the pain lasted for days. What I went through was not unlike the stages of grief as described by Kubler-Ross – Shock, Denial, Guilt, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I struggled with guilt, anger, and depression, but the experience helped me evolve and see beyond the common belief that we are just bodies on this planet who are meant to suffer.
Through my struggles, I learned to inquire deeply into my past, my beliefs, and my sense of self. I realized there must be something more to me than just a body and mind, which led me to the real work of being human.
My journey with illness was a gift of grace, offering opportunities for growth and deeper understanding. I encourage others to embrace their experiences and actively participate in their own evolution, moving beyond the myth of survivorship and into a deeper sense of self and purpose.
Please note: the thoughts and opinions expressed within the content are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the the opinions and beliefs of Hodgkin’s International.