11 Short Stories of Transformation and Survival that Will Change How You Think About Cancer

Amidst the many top news stories of cancer, it’s rare to find a story to warm your heart. Stories abound on new cancer drug ‘breakthroughs’, notable people who have succumbed to their disease, and individuals suffering through financial hardship and poor access to treatment.

It’s enough to keep you stuck in hopelessness, not set you on the path to freedom from your own disease.

So we’re thrilled you’ve found your way here. Take it from us, you’re on the path!

We’re happy to tell you that people are beating the odds and becoming cancer-free all the time. Even from locally advanced or metastatic cancer, and difficult-to-treat cancers like glioblastoma and lung cancer. But more important than that, we’re here to tell you how to beat the odds.

Are you an exceptional patient?

It might be surprising to you, but beating the odds is not about the quality of your care so much as the quality of your attitude. In a study conducted at health centers in the US and Israel, oncologists were asked to identify ‘exceptional patients’ with advanced cancers considered incurable who subsequently became disease-free or experienced an unexplainably long survival time [1]. Patients were then interviewed to identify themes associated with survival.

Twenty-six subjects were interviewed, including 14 from the US and 12 from Israel. All had advanced cancer with a range of diagnoses that included breast, colorectal, pancreatic and ovarian cancers, and glioblastoma multiforme.

The recurrent theme that set these subjects apart from others who succumbed to their disease was personal activism. In other words, people who survive advanced cancer do so because they take responsibility for their disease, and they become involved in all aspects of their care from diagnosis thru treatment.

Intriguingly, survivors also became more altruistic in their relationships with others, reflecting a change in personal philosophy about life. In this way, the cancer journey became a transformative experience where the individual became willing to change her or his life in order to refocus priorities and even self-identity.

Individual stories of transformation 

Here’s a selection of transformational stories you can use to identify the exceptional qualities already within you. Acknowledging these qualities is a vital step in making full use of them!

Connecting with other survivors

“I felt a close relationship with other cancer survivors; several individuals that I scarcely knew (one was a total stranger) disclosed to me their own experience with cancer. While sitting in a waiting room to see my doctor or other specialists, I found it easy to talk with other cancer survivors, including those who were ethnically or socio-economically quite different from me. I tried to help other individuals with cancer, aiding them in understanding what they were going through. My general feeling of altruism became much stronger. Having received prayers and other types of support from many others, led me to feel that I should return this assistance to others. My previous focus on career and success faded.”

Everett (kidney cancer)

Connecting with a higher power

“I was pretty spiritual all my life and after cancer I realized that by the grace of God, I am alive. There is a higher power and I have given myself to that power. I live 24 hours a day, not yesterday or today. If someone with cancer calls me, I give 100 percent of my time to help that individual. I enjoy everything of life and now have a closer relationship with life.”

Donald (prostate cancer)

Relinquishing control and connecting with new skills

“If I am still here, there must be a reason for it. I now believe that there is something that is bigger, which controls us. I help anybody who comes for advice about cancer and tell them not to live for cancer. Do whatever you want to do, and live life to the best of your ability. Cancer is extraneous. I do not worry and get into stressful situations. If I find there is a difficult situation and if I can do nothing about it, I get out of it straight away. I try to learn a new skill, something which I do not know, like I learned to keep the books [accounting] on the computer. That helps in getting my mind off of my cancer and getting excited about simple things.”

Louise (lung cancer)

Counting blessings

“I do not put off things now. Life is too short and cancer changed me as a person. I do feel fortunate. My mind is more active and I appreciate my life. I realize the shortness of life, and I always did my contribution to the world by helping others in whatever way I could. I am more conscious of time now.”

Judith (colon cancer)

Learning about love and exploring spirituality

“A feeling of complete peace is hard to explain. I learned about love more than ever before. Family and friends are the only things that are important in this life. One thing that I learned was that God is not of one faith. Spiritual development has always been my goal and this experience [cancer] taught me how important it is. I feel religion is man-made, and spiritual development and faith are not. I know that we need to accept all faiths and religions, because truly there is only one God.”

Gordon (pancreatic cancer)

Invoking the survivor mindset

“Everything is going to be fine. I always had an attitude about life, i.e., I believed in the survive option. Faith is going to win. I help everybody. Give a hug, say ‘Hi’ and treat everybody like humans. I am now more connected to people. I believe that we need more people with cancer so that this experience can change them and make them realize the goodness of life. I found out from cancer what I am made of. I am a survivor.”

James (lung cancer)

Embracing a more authentic life

“Life is very short and the cancer experience is vivid in my memory forever. Life is very seductive and pulls you back into doing certain things. However, I made a commitment to myself that I will cherish life. Now to me my old life seems foolish, a waste of time. I am clear about what and how I am going to spend my time and what I am doing now. It is an experience which is non-cognitive, and I am unable to explain it fully.”

Dodd (prostate cancer)

Allowing emotional transformation

“I have developed compassion for the next person. I know what is going on in life now, the purpose of everything in life. There is surely a reason for everything that happens. I do not hold on to grudges. I do not get angry. My attitude has changed. The cancer experience has taught me how to live.”

Jacqueline (breast cancer)

Taking time to smell the roses

“I am more conscious and appreciative of simple things in life now. Having come out of death, I feel very much blessed. I will do anything possible to help those who have been diagnosed with cancer. I always had faith in God but now it has increased even more.”

Gail (metastatic breast cancer)

Seeking greater meaning and life purpose

“The cancer has changed me. I came face-to-face with mortality. I have become a little different, more philosophical. I started thinking what are the things that I wanted to do and how much time do I have? Earlier, I used to concentrate on material things but that now were insignificant. I attribute my survival to the many blessings of people close to me and to the good wishes of my children and grandchildren. I realize that I need to help others who have cancer. I give my telephone number to them and volunteer to talk to them any time of the day. I feel more connected to my family. I tell people to have a right state of mind and a positive attitude. My advice is to find ways to eliminate stress, and to eat the right food.”

Bill (prostate cancer)

Enjoying every moment

I realize the worth of life now. I had a simple life but now I realize even more how important it is to enjoy every moment of life. Existence has become a bigger purpose for me. I want to help others and contribute in a small way to making this place a little better. I offer to help whoever is in need within my circle of friends and support group and am very proactive in this. I always had animals in my house. I have started loving them more now.

Mike (prostate cancer)

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1. Frenkel M, Ari SL, Engebretson J, et al. Activism among exceptional patients with cancer. Support Care Cancer. 2011;19:1125–1132.

2 responses to “11 Short Stories of Transformation and Survival that Will Change How You Think About Cancer

  1. Pingback: Treat Yourself to Complementary Care For a More Positive Experience of Cancer | the mindbody doc·

  2. Pingback: How a Little Battler Created a Survivor Mindset to Beat the Biggest Cancer Odds | the mindbody doc·

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