Surviving cancer is anything but easy. Doing it once may be the toughest thing you ever do. For those who’ve done it more than once, you know firsthand that it never gets easier. That’s because every cancer diagnosis is unique in its challenges.
I know this because I’m an eight-time cancer survivor, and I’m once again battling cancer for the ninth time. I know that surviving cancer is amazing, but thriving with cancer is even better. And it’s possible.
Learning to live while you feel like you’re dying is an extraordinary feat, and one that I’m committed to helping others accomplish. Here’s how I learned to thrive with cancer.
When a doctor says, “You have cancer,” the world seems to turn upside down. Worry immediately sets in. You may find yourself overwhelmed by questions like:
- Will I need chemotherapy?
- Will I lose my hair?
- Will radiation hurt or burn?
- Will I need surgery?
- Will I still be able to work during treatment?
- Will I be able to take care of myself and my family?
- Will I die?
I’ve heard those three scary words nine different times. And I admit, I asked myself these very questions. The first time I was so scared, I wasn’t sure I could drive home safely. I went into a four-day panic. But after that, I learned to accept the diagnosis, determined not only to survive but also thrive with my disease.
Google “surviving” and you’ll likely find this definition: “Continuing to live or exist, especially in the face of hardship.”
Through my own cancer battles and in talking with those impacted by cancer, I’ve found that this word means many things to many people. When I asked what surviving means within the medical community, my doctor said surviving cancer meant:
- You’re still alive.
- You’re going through the steps from diagnosis to treatment.
- You have multiple options with the expectations of positive results.
- You’re striving for a cure.
- You aren’t expected to die.
When speaking with fellow cancer warriors in my many times in the hospital waiting room, I found that they often had a different definition of what it meant to survive. To many, it simply meant:
- waking up each day
- being able to get out of bed
- completing activities of daily living (washing and dressing)
- eating and drinking without vomiting
I’ve talked with hundreds of people undergoing treatment over the past 40 years in my journey with different bouts of cancer. The severity and type of cancer aside, I’ve found that my survival has also depended on factors beyond the disease itself, including:
- my treatments
- my relationship with my doctor
- my relationship with the rest of the medical team
- my quality of life outside of my medical conditions
Many people over the years have told me that surviving simply means not dying. Many said they never considered there was anything else to consider.
It’s been a joy for me to discuss ways they could thrive. It’s been my pleasure to help them see that they could live a productive life. It’s been really awesome to convince them they’re allowed to be happy and experience joy while battling cancer.
It’s an oxymoron to live while you die. But after eight successful cancer battles, I’m here to promise you that it’s more possible than you know. One critical way I’ve thrived through and in-between cancer diagnoses is by committing myself to my health and disease prevention.
Over the years, knowing my body when it feels well has helped me identify when things aren’t right. Instead of wishing it away or ignoring my body’s signals for help, I act.
I’m not a hypochondriac, but I know when to go to the doctor to be checked. And time and time again, it has proven to be my most fruitful tactic. In 2015, when I visited my oncologist to report severe new aches and pains, I suspected my cancer had returned.
These weren’t the usual arthritis pains. I knew something was wrong. My doctor immediately ordered tests, which confirmed my suspicions.
The diagnosis felt grim: metastatic breast cancer, which had spread to my bones. I started radiation immediately, followed by chemotherapy. It did the trick.
My doctor said I would die before Christmas. Two years later, I’m living and thriving with cancer again.
While I was told that this diagnosis has no cure, I haven’t given up hope or the will to fight and live a meaningful life. So, I went into thriving mode!
Having a purpose in life keeps me alive and determined to fight. It’s the bigger picture that keeps me focused through the hardships. I know it’s possible for anyone out there fighting the great fight.
To you, I’d say: Find your calling. Stay committed. Lean on your support system. Find joy where you can.
These are my mantras that help me live a great life every day and thrive:
- I will continue to write books.
- I will continue to interview interesting guests on my radio show.
- I will continue to write for my local paper.
- I will continue to learn all I can about options for metastatic breast cancer.
- I will attend conferences and support groups.
- I will help educate my caregivers about my needs.
- I will do whatever I can to advocate for people with cancer.
- I will mentor those who contact me for help.
- I will continue to hope for a cure.
- I will continue to pray, allowing my faith to carry me through.
- I will continue to feed my soul.
And for as long as I can, I will continue to thrive. With or without cancer.
Anna Renault is a published author, public speaker, and radio show host. She’s also a cancer survivor, having had multiple bouts of cancer over the past 40 years. She’s also a mother and grandmother. When she’s not writing, she’s often found reading or spending time with family and friends.