What IS in a Name?

What IS in a name?

It’s an oft asked question. We have long stopped believing that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Words can cut right to the bone, leaving scars that are not available on sight, but which sear and take even longer to heal exactly because of their invisibility.  Likewise, words have the power to melt the thickest of icecaps that cover the still waters lying vigilantly below.


Not only do words matter, but the way in which they are delivered means the difference between receiving them like a gift or dodging them as they are ejected from a cannon.

“How are you doing?” can be an inquisitive phrase or a snide threat, depending on how it comes across.


In this month of pink awareness the word survivor gets bandied about, celebrated and slapped onto labels of all kinds. While I understand that there needs to be a term for people who have been treated, this is not one that feels comfortable to me. I have tried to understand this for some time, and have realized with the help of others that part of it is the passivity that seems to be implied. Although in many ways it is a terrificly active process, and one in which it is imperative to be present and aware, the term survivor somehow misses this aspect.


There is also the association of the word “victim” with natural disasters and the Holocaust, both of which bring a whole other aspect to survivorship. As with treatment for cancer, in all cases people have not chosen the precipitating event which one has survived. However, in the treatment of cancer there are many more choices along the way, and many pieces that represent the dedicated work of thousands to make it go away.


I have coined a new term that I am taking for a spin. Those of us who are Riders of the Wave (of the Big C), or Riders can decide if that feels right. I like its more active stance, the way it implies the balance of staying upright (and sometimes not), and acknowledgment of the fact that some waves are small, others are large, and some tidal; whatever the size, it is up to us to ride the waves as we can. One woman said that she appreciated that it sounds more participatory. It also allows room for a process, with unknown and varying amounts of time in between the more challenging ones. And it makes room for the varied and splendid styles in which we ride. For me, it strikes the right blend of active, vital, even colorful, without being either aggressive or unrealistic.

One must be in the moment, paying attention, living, in order to be Riding.


Although it is not everything, my hope is that a new name gives people a place to start, to feel what power is already there. It is important to know that there is no right way to go about Riding the Waves, and no need to wait to start riding. After all, we are all riding waves of some form from the moment we are born. When a big one comes our way, we may need to adjust our stance, or shore up our skills for a longer ride, but as long as we’re Riding, we’re in it to win it, every time.

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About Meg

Meg is a licensed independent clinical social worker with over thirty-five years clinical experience. She holds a Master’s Degree from the Boston University School of Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts from the State University of New York at Binghamton.