Skip to content

I Spy a Possible Previvor

Standing tall in my butterfly shoes deciding on my own label

Survivor. You’re either talking about the Outwit, Outlast, Outplay tv show or someone who has navigated through cancer. I am neither. But a Previvor? Oh, I don’t know about that one?

No one in my family diagnosed with cancer ever talked about it, walked in honor of it or called themselves a “Survivor” because of it. In fact, my grandmother’s parents didn’t survive their illnesses, nor did her sister. They all died as young adults. Besides her sister, my grandmother and her other siblings all survived cancer repeatedly, a few starting in their 30s. They quietly endured surgeries and healing over and over again through their life spans. Perhaps that is why I shy away from any labels. 

Although my family never used the word, Survivor makes sense to me. Previvor, however, makes me squirm. The teacher in me sees a different meaning in the word. That  “pre” prefix means “before”, which makes me feel like I’m labeling myself as precancerous. It causes me to look at the future and worry. 

I know that Previvor actually means someone who is taking precautionary measures to try and prevent cancer; to not end up a Survivor, or worse succumbed. Some BRCA+ people feel empowered knowing their hereditary status, so that they may take preventative measures through surgery and/or monitoring methods.

I have also wondered what Survivors think about the use of Previvor.

While some Survivors are supportive and wish that they could have been Previvors instead, others are upset by the term Previvor and comment on Facebook BRCA groups. A mother and daughter sadly had a public fight about these words. 

The mother had posted on Facebook about Previvor Day, September 26th, and how she was grateful to know her BRCA status, have preventative surgeries and how her daughter beat Breast Cancer. She also encouraged all women to stay on top of their breast exams as an extra PSA. Well, her daughter responded with an intense public message about how dire her breast cancer experience was and that she felt “minimized” by her mother’s post. Then she said it: “and being a survivor, hearing the word previvor cuts like a knife.” Yikes!

The mother turned to her BRCA peeps to ask for feedback and support. And we gave her exactly what she needed: compassion and understanding.

If I ever do develop cancer, I hope to be fortunate to call myself a Survivor. I will sing like Beyoncé loud and proud:

I’m a survivor (what), I’m not gon’ give up (what)

I’m not gon’ stop (what), I’m gon’ work harder (what)

I’m a survivor (what), I’m gonna make it (what)

I will survive (what), keep on survivin’ (what)

For now, I am willing to dip my toes into the Previvor waters because I would like to be in the company of the amazingly strong BRCA positive (and other HBOC) women. I know that I am not alone with my uneasy feeling with the word Previvor though. I know this, for I asked others what they thought in my own post. While there was a mix of opinions, one voice stood out. Another Amy said she liked the word “Provivor” in that she is being proactive in trying to prevent cancer. PROVIVOR. I like it.

Either way, what I learned is that it is really your decision on what to call yourself or your own personal journey in and around cancer.

What term do you use for yourself on your BRCA journey, if any?