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From the Mouths of Survivors: Aniela McGuinness

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Aniela McGuinness, 34, Hollywood, Fla.

Having lost her mother to ovarian cancer the year before her breast cancer diagnosis, McGuinness recoiled the first time someone called her a survivor. Her friend Nora McMahon didn’t like the term, either, so the two came up with a whole new cancer glossary and founded CancerGrad.org.

“What else can you call a person who’s finished with cancer? We came up with ‘cancer grad’ and spent about six months refining the metaphor and the terminology. Cancer sucks. We aren’t trying to make light of it. But if you go into it thinking of it as an education or a series of lessons, instead of a battle, it might help. What we came up with is the idea of going to college: It’s scary; it’s expensive; it’s hard. ‘Survivor’ is a really heavy word that connotes war or major trauma. My other problem with it is, the moment my mom died, that title was revoked. So we changed all the language. Survivors are graduates. Mom is studying abroad. Your major is the type of cancer you have. As most cancer grads will tell you, when you meet a grad with your major (diagnosis), it’s the same feeling you have when you find someone who went to your alma mater, and you end up reminiscing about throwing up from chemo cocktails. All the parallels are there, right down to debt you graduate with.” 

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