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Cancer Survivors Dispute 'Previvor's' Place at Relay

DEAR ABBY: This is in response to "Conflicted in California" (March 20), whose co-worker walks the "survivors' lap" in Relay for Life events. Her co-worker is what we call a "previvor," someone who took steps to lessen his or her chances of developing cancer. For other co-workers to belittle her for walking this lap is just plain mean. As a survivor, I have no problem with a previvor walking the lap. -- DIANE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

DEAR DIANE: In your letter, you made reference to "previvors." This is a term I was unfamiliar with. After doing some research, I found the following information on the site of Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE). It reads:

"Cancer previvors are individuals who are survivors of a predisposition to cancer but haven't had the disease. The group includes people who carry a hereditary mutation, family history or some other predisposing factor. ... The term specifically applies to the portion of our community that has its own unique needs and concerns separate from the general population, but different from those already diagnosed with cancer."

Some of the letters my office received were vehemently against "Conflicted's" co-worker participating in the survivors' lap. Read on for more reader comments:

DEAR ABBY: The co-worker walking the survivor lap is a fraud. I am a two-time cancer survivor currently going through a round of chemotherapy. I call foul!

She had a genetic threat of cancer, but has not had it. She hasn't heard those horrible words confirming her worst fears. She hasn't felt the pain of a chemical cocktail shot into her veins, which can only be described as Drano mixed with napalm. She hasn't watched her hair fall out or seen her skin burned and charred from treatment. She chose elective surgery based on genetic markers.

If she wants to participate in Relay for Life, there is a caregiver lap and other activities she can participate in to honor her aunt and mother. She may have gone through pain and grief, but she is no survivor. -- SURVIVOR IN THE SOUTH

DEAR ABBY: It's sad that this has become a case of whose cancer was worse and a judgment of who can or should walk the lap. Just let her walk. It doesn't take away anything of value from anyone else. Relay for Life is an individual experience in a group environment.

I was once invited to walk the survivor lap and a "friend" came up and asked me point blank, "Why are you here? You only had thyroid cancer, not breast cancer!" I responded that I didn't realize cancer was a contest, and I walked the lap. -- LET IT BE

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