In the United States, nearly 17 million people are living with, through and beyond their disease as cancer survivors. The survivorship experience can be a transforming force, so we sought the advice and input from women across the country who have generously shared the lessons they’ve learned throughout their cancer journey. The wisdom they’ve come to understand through struggle not only shapes how they move forward, but can also provide us with truths and inspiration upon which to reflect.
Trust the Person You’re Becoming
Katie Russell Newland, 43: Through my cancer journey, I learned that every challenging moment presents an opportunity for cultivating the life I want to live and the person I want to be. Out of the struggle came a deep faith in myself and a trust in the unknown. Out of the pain came an understanding that while I may not control my circumstances, I do control my response to them. Out of the fear came a realization that death is not my enemy. And out of moments of weakness came a strength and grace I never knew I had.
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Take it One Day at a Time
Jacy Miller, 46: One lesson that I’ve learned since my lung cancer diagnosis is that I need to take everything one day at a time. Sometimes, it’s even one hour at a time. This means treasuring things in your life, like family, pets or taking care of your body. Don’t let frivolous stuff control your life. Take time to take care of yourself and spend quality time with the ones you love.
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It’s Never Too Early to Find Your Purpose
Mary Anne Oldford, 71: Life is filled with lessons through trials, tribulations, happiness, love of family, friends and hope. Many are learned, but the one that stands out to me from my fight with cancer is that making connections through advocacy and knowledge-sharing matters. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and my top-notch medical team guided me to understand my diagnosis of sarcoma, a rare cancer, and they taught me how to maneuver the battle of my lifetime. Which led me to my true life’s purpose: creating the Sarcoma Sunflower Brigade, an online cancer support group that shares with more than 2,000 world-wide members a journey that no one wants to travel alone. Together we are stronger!
Lori Allen, 61: Surviving breast cancer has given me the opportunity to dream again—and to say yes to what’s next for my life. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t feel deeply grateful for my second chance at life, for all of those miracle moments that led to my breast cancer diagnosis, to the village of support that I had from my family to my team of doctors, nurses and physical therapist, who pieced me back together again. Today, I travel around the nation speaking to cancer patients and survivors for fundraisers, hospital openings, races and other special events, and the heart of my message is this: No matter where you are in your journey or how your life has been impacted by cancer, I encourage you to take stock of where you are and where you want to go. It’s even the inspiration for my new book, Say Yes to What’s Next (July 14). I passionately believe that the best is yet to come for all of us.
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Nothing Just Happens
Jacqueline M. Walters, M.D., 56: I am a two-time breast cancer survivor, but I did more than survive—I fought back. My greatest life lesson learned is that nothing just happens. There are no mistakes. I’ve turned my pain into a purpose, my misery into a ministry, and my struggles have given me the strength to do so. I used my experience with breast cancer and the adversity I faced and founded a breast cancer nonprofit foundation called 50 Shades of Pink Foundation in 2013. We treat the inner and outer beauty of breast cancer warriors by nurturing their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. As a breast cancer survivor and OB-GYN (my new book The Queen V: Everything You Need to Know About Sex, Intimacy and Down There Health Care came out this year), I believe that if you look good, you feel good and ultimately, you do good, and we pay strong attention to building a strong and positive support system.
Related: ‘Research Is the Reason I’m Alive’: Lung Cancer Survivors Share Their Heart-Wrenching Stories
Life is a New Life
Doris Graley, 74: After two rounds of lung cancer, you accept that life is now a new life. I have always been strong and independent, but cancer shows you that while you need your family and friends, it is so important to stay independently strong, fight and never lose hope. I now volunteer to let others know that there is hope—to never give up. Five years ago, I thought life was ending for me, but by staying strong and hopeful, and through faith, I was able to see my grandson graduate high school. And I’m here as my granddaughter graduates from college—with honors!
Related: Survivor Legend Ethan Zohn Shares Why His Post-Cancer Return to the Island Was So Important
Embrace What Each New Day Brings
Bif Naked, 48: Breast Cancer made me a woman, and that’s the truth. Even though I was already 36 years old when I was diagnosed with cancer, it was the treatments, surgeries and ongoing side-effects that really taught me grace, encouraged me to grow up, and changed my life for the better. Learning acceptance, and giving thanks for every challenge I was experiencing, was transformational for me as a human being, and as a woman. I embraced it all. Living in gratitude just makes me happier and discovering plant medicines just makes me healthier. Being more open minded actually opened my heart, and I continue to live my best life, in joy, and I want to keep sharing that with others through my writing, music, my plant-based lifestyle and now with my MonaLisa Healing CBD. Surviving cancer is the blessing, and living life as a true renaissance woman (like the Mona Lisa) will always make each new day a masterpiece.
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