The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on May 19, 2011.

It’s doubtful that anyone would ever mistake me for a sports star or a rock star. But I was treated like both last weekend. And I enjoyed how it felt.

It was at the Eastern Carver County Relay for Life, where I was one of the speakers at the Opening Ceremony, and a participant in the event. But it wasn’t for either of these roles that I was given the star treatment. It was in my role as a cancer survivor.

One of the very touching and emotional parts of the Relay for Life comes near the beginning of the event. It’s the Survivor’s Lap, which starts off the walking that will continue on throughout the night. The cancer survivors at the event – wearing special purple t-shirts that say “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.” on the front and “Had It. Fought It. Survived It.” on the back – gather on the track and walk as a group for the first lap of the night. Everyone else is lined up along the track, cheering, shouting, smiling and clapping for the survivors as they walk by.

That’s when I felt like a sports star – like an Olympic champion doing a victory lap around the field, accompanied by my fellow athletes who have also fought and won their battle. Or who are still fighting it – and as of right now, are winning.

The place where I felt like a rock star was in the Survivors Tent – an area near the registration tables where cancer survivors could gather and where they received their special purple t-shirt, a “goody bag” and a floral gift, as well as birthday cake and ice cream, since the theme of the Relay for Life is a world with less cancer and more birthdays. Star treatment was given, here and all night long, to everyone who has survived cancer.

There’s a reason – and it’s not the one that seems obvious – that I enjoyed the attention so much. It’s not the cheers and applause, the gifts and thoughtful gestures, or the cake and ice cream that felt so gratifying. It’s being seen and treated like a hero, a role model, and an inspiration, rather than as a victim.

Cancer is something that happened to me. It attacked me years ago, but I lived to tell about it. So it’s accurate to describe me both as a victim of cancer and as a cancer survivor. But when you’re a victim, there’s a sense of fear, uncertainty and helplessness that comes with the experience. When you’re a survivor, it’s more about strength, growth, and control. People feel sorry for victims, and want to help them and take care of them. People admire survivors, and want to applaud them and be like them. It should be no surprise that I – and I’m sure I’m speaking for others as well – much prefer to be seen and treated as a survivor, rather than as a victim.

Although lots of people dream of becoming a sports star or a rock star, I don’t think there are too many people who dream of one day becoming a cancer survivor. But like sports stars and rock stars, cancer survivors can serve as role models for others. And I want to be a good one. So I plan to continue taking care of myself, speaking out, and doing whatever I can to help, inspire, reassure and encourage people who have felt the frightening grip of cancer on their lives – so that they, too, can know what it feels like to be treated like a sports star. And a rock star. And a survivor.

© Betty Liedtke, 2011