Book Excerpt: 'The Survivors Club'

The desire and drive for normalcy are very powerful. When most people get sick, they want to heal quickly. Knocked down, they try to get back up. For many of us, life is supposed to operate like a seat or tray table on an airplane. On command, it should easily return to its original upright position. Unfortunately, that's not the way it works. The best survivors un-derstand that normal is just a ?eeting state of mind. Indeed normalcy may seem steady and constant, but it's really just the intermission between the chaos and messiness of life. Survivors accept that life probably won't ever return to the way it used to be. So they let go, adapt, and embrace the "new normal."

Of course, every survivor is unique, and the word itself generates considerable controversy. Some people reject the label survivor because they don't want to be branded for life. Like some sort of stigma, they want their ordeal -- their cancer, car wreck, or assault -- to be expunged. Others prefer to be called cured and not reminded of the uncertainty, unpleasantness, and struggle along the way. Some oppose the seriousness and gravity of survivor. They dealt with their problem, put it behind them, and press forward without looking back. Others object to the passivity of survivor and prefer a more dynamic moniker like activist, conqueror, or warrior. Some feel that veteran best captures their battles and victories, while others believe that graduate describes their learning experience and sense of accomplishment. Some abhor what they perceive as the emotionalism of survivor with its connotations of heroism, bravery, and courage. In the case of some patients with disease, they prefer the factual phrase living with stroke or HIV.

Whichever term you embrace, survival is typically seen as a pass/fail proposition. The medical establishment focused for decades on those who were cured and those who were not. Either you lived or you died. Scientists call this binary thinking. Only two variables matter. A = life. B = death. You're either one or the other. In reality, of course, survival is messy and complicated—a bumpy road, not a final destination. The path from crisis to normalcy isn't smooth, straight, or one-way. In fact, it's wild and wavering. As the experts say: It isn't linear.

Survivors aren't superheroes who vanquish adversity every time and live happily ever after. If you think they're always triumphant, you're wrong. They're regular people who win some and lose some. They share a mind-set but they don't all possess the same personality. They overcome adversity but they don't necessarily accomplish it the same way. They aren't always adaptable and optimistic; they feel stuck and gloomy, too. They don't always live to a ripe old age; sometimes they only make it a few months. Ultimately, what defines a survivor is the talent for making the most of life, however much remains. Survivors figure out what's right for themselves and their families. They're true to their feelings. They don't necessarily spend every moment ?ghting, say, Lou Gehrig's disease, or raising money to cure Parkinson's. They have bad days. They struggle. They succumb. But even when they're physically gone, they're still survivors. They remain with us in other, more enduring ways. They're super livers even when their time on earth is cut short.

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