A journalist recently asked me, ‘How would you define yourself?’ It wasn’t quite the existential question that it first appears. What they meant was more like ‘ please sum up, in a few words and in a way that’s relevant to what we are talking about in this interview, what you are all about’. In this case, it was ‘author and cancer blogger’. For other interviews it’s been: cancer survivor, cancer fighter, cancer writer, inspirational cancer blogger… the list goes on. (Journalists don’t always give you the luxury of making your own definition, so I wouldn’t necessarily have endorsed all of these – you can probably tell which ones I don’t like…)
The question of defining ourselves is one I find myself returning to over and over. Partly, I think, because the time is coming when I need to make some changes (of which more anon). And partly because, once the ‘publish’ button is pressed, that definition of you is there forever. So once someone has written about me as ‘bravely battling cancer’ that definition sticks to me, no matter how little I like the definition.
For a while, cancer did define me. The way I slept, dressed, ate, looked, felt, the way I behaved, the things I did with my time, all happened within the limits put down by my dance with cancer. That’s not the case any more. There are days when cancer comes to the fore, when I’m speaking about it, or when I’m having a check-up. On other days, I am a mostly defined by my work as a writer; or a trainer. I’m always a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend.
Over and above those deep identities created by love, loyalty and belonging, now the way I define myself alters according to the moment, the job, the mood, and the person I’m with. (There are people to whom I am, and will always be, a brave little soldier fighting cancer, and there’s not a lot I can do to change that, apart from refusing to engage with their version of me.) Of course, a lot of the time I’m far too busy doing whatever it is I’m doing to worry about definitions at all, and I guess that’s the best way.