Cancer Survivors: Words of Inspiration

"Scars may heal, blood counts may normalize, years may pass. But never again will the simple act of waking up to a normal, boring day as a healthy individual be taken for granted, nor go unappreciated." - Allison A., Cairo, Egypt

Surviving cancer is a different experience for everyone. But one thing most survivors say is that their life after the cancer is not the same. Cancer survivors from all walks of life responded to a New York Times request to send in a photo and answer the question, "How is your life different after cancer?" The responses make up a powerful new book from The Times and the American Cancer Society titled Picture Your Life After Cancer, edited by Karen Barrow, web producer for the science desk of The New York Times. This book includes more than 200 stories of cancer survivors. Here are just a few:

Six months after I finished cancer treatment, I accomplished 2 physical feats that I never imagined I would do. I hiked down and back up the Grand Canyon in 1 day, and a week later, I completed my first half marathon. Going through a year of chemotherapy with a smile gave me the strength to know I could get through anything with grace. I am currently working toward my master’s degree in public health so that I can work with others in compromised health situations.

-Adrienne Rathert, New Orleans, Louisiana

I was able to go on after my serious fight with cancer and serve my country—both in Afghanistan and in New Orleans, Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina. Having a new lease on life helps me focus on the ones I care about and allows me to help other people with a grateful spirit.


-Jerry Joern, Afghanistan

I play rugby, hard. I serve as the opinions editor for my college newspaper, The Pendulum. I am a proud Make-A-Wish kid. I dance with zeal, laugh until I can’t anymore, and step outside to breathe and remind myself I’m alive. I have a passion for travel, for food, and for love. My faith is stronger than ever, and I will never stop thanking God for the one invaluable gift I have been given—my family! I kicked angiosarcoma’s butt!

-Ashley Jobe, Elon, North Carolina

As a nonsmoker and otherwise healthy person, breast cancer had nothing to do with me—until the summer of 2007. It took me quite a while to accept that nothing would be the same after that. The love and support of my husband and 2 children helped me find a new normal with more ups and downs than before. Today, I feel stronger than ever. I am trying to learn that every single day is something special and that the things I’d love to do should be done now, not later.

-Regina Falk, Keltern, Germany

Life after cancer is a lot different than people may think. It alters your state of mind, keeps you grounded and more in touch with reality. It’s made me a little more cynical and distant at times, but one positive change is that it makes me appreciate how beautiful a day can really be.


-Pasquale Ricotta, New York, New York

Life’s much more vibrant. Words have more meaning. Actions have more meaning. Butterflies, coffee, and bright blue skies seem so much more important than petty disagreements. Relationships are more important than how many hours a week I have worked. And every day is truly a gift.


-Robin B. Katz, Chicago, Illinois

My goal in life is to do what makes me happy. I eat delicious foods that tickle my taste buds—like ice cream! I exercise and appreciate the strength in my body. I have 2 5Ks coming up. I have traveled to Belize and parts of Africa and seen the world. I cherish my friends and family who have given me their never-ending support and love.


-Jana-Lynn Kam, San Mateo, California

I’m a physician, and I stepped onto the other side of the patient-doctor equation when I was diagnosed with cancer. I know now what it’s like to be told you have cancer, what it’s like to wait for the phone call with your latest CT scan results, what it’s like to feel your heart sink. I’m a better physician—and person—for it. I also learned how dinner with your wife and kids and coffee on a Sunday morning are all it takes to be in nirvana.

-David Posner, New York, New York

I “died” of cancer in 2004. Six months later, after a meticulous chemotherapy regimen, I was reborn into something remarkable. I have spent the years since then celebrating that giddy spring day. Today, I am love, hope, and joy—wisdom and strength.


-Yodi Collins, Fairfax, Virgina

I was sentenced to have 2 types of cancer just 1 month after I retired at the age of 61. Thanks to 2 different operations, I could come back to my daily life. After 2 years, I started again to climb mountains. I would like to climb all of the 100 famous mountains in Japan. So far, I have climbed 56. This photo was taken on my 56th mountain, Yarigatake.


-Kazuma Inoue, Ozaka, Japan

After cancer, my husband and I bonded in a unique way. He made the daily journey for my treatments and never missed a doctor’s appointment. Although I loved him madly before the diagnosis, his presence has brought me laughter and balance during the darkest of times.


-Susan Pohl, Berkeley, California

I appreciate my family more. I had kidney cancer in 1997, prostate cancer in 2002, and a recurrence of prostate cancer in 2005. Now I teach yoga and the mindfulness that comes with its practice. Without the return of my cancer, I would not be practicing or teaching yoga today.


-Erik Marrero, Sewell, New Jersey

Scars may heal, blood counts may normalize, years may pass. But never again will the simple act of waking up to a normal, boring day as a healthy individual be taken for granted, nor go unappreciated.



-Allison A., Cairo, Egypt

Life is different after cancer because my priorities have completely reversed. Before, I was motivated by my career and tended to neglect my personal life. Now, I put my life first. I take the time to go on vacations and enjoy my friends and family. When one is faced with death, you suddenly realize what matters and what doesn’t. Though I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone, it was probably the best thing to happen to me. It reminded me that you only live once, and you must make the most of your life while you can.

-Buck Usher, Seattle, Washington

Twenty-four years after my last cancer treatment for Ewing sarcoma, my passion in life is helping clients transform loss and hardship into happiness. Cancer has taught me resiliency and empathy, strengths that propel me when I’m helping guide others through their pain. It is my belief that grief and loss are not only about death and dying, but also about every disappointment we have ever faced.

-Claire Chew, Venice, California

Reprinted from The New York Times. (Karen Barrow, ed.) Picture Your Life After Cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2012.

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