33 Inspiring Cancer Quotes From Survivors
People who have survived cancer have been through a lot—and they’ve learned a lot. This wisdom may help you and yours gain a new perspective on life.
There’s more to a diagnosis than meets the eye
Being on the receiving end of cancer can turn your world upside down—in Canada, cancer accounts for 30 per cent of all deaths, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Surviving cancer can sometimes give people a newfound perspective on life, and it’s the kind of insight that can help other people who might be going through it. Here’s what these people have learned from their experience.
“People ask if I had it to do again, would I choose cancer? Yes.”
Physical therapist Sally Morgan has been a breast cancer survivor for 10 years now—and believe it or not, other survivors share her sentiment. “Facing cancer forces you to look inward, ask yourself hard questions about life, death, purpose, and gratitude, and it enables a new depth and understanding of how to live life from your heart, following your soul’s purpose,” Morgan explains.
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“I won’t let cancer define me, but I’ll use my journey to help others.”
A veteran firefighter, Douglas Clarke was no stranger to epic battles even before he was diagnosed twice with lung cancer—the second time when it had spread to his brain. In spite of these challenges, Doug is still fighting fires, teaching, and travelling. Doug is also a Lung Force Hero with the American Lung Association (ALA)—and the goal of these heroes is to unite people in the fight against lung cancer.
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“Parents with children who have cancer: I was your child 30 years ago, and I’m here today.”
Nora Kulkarni was once a child battling cancer (in her case, it was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma). Now a St. Baldrick’s Foundation advocate, she has this to say about her journey: “Being able to meet the parents of a child in treatment and say to them, ‘I know what you’re going through, and I survived what your child is fighting to survive,’ is incredibly powerful.”
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“Through embracing my situation, I took back the power.”
Actor Justin Sandler—he’s also a director, drummer, and business owner—was diagnosed with an aggressive germ cell tumour in his chest. What got him through his intense treatment plan (45 nights in a hospital, 60 bags of chemo, and five surgeries) is embracing his cancer. “By coming from love, even going as far as telling my tumour that I loved and appreciated it, I was able to remain at peace, stay positive, and grow as a person.”
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“Let go of things you can’t control.”
Diagnosed with prostate cancer when he was only 49, Nate Battle wasn’t too surprised: Ten out of 12 of the men in his family have had the same diagnosis. Nate let the diagnosis be his reality check, and he began to live in the present. “Yesterday ended last night. The future hasn’t happened yet. Live now! And let go of what’s outside of your control.”
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“Just because I can’t control what life throws at me, doesn’t mean I can’t control how I handle it.”
“Being a survivor means feeling gratitude just for opening my eyes in the morning,” says Devin Duncan, a two-time survivor of childhood leukemia (once at age three, and again at age 17). “I’ve faced more in my 25 years than most people do in their whole lifetime,” says Duncan, “and I overcame it all. I refuse to let my body tell me I’m not invincible.”
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“I look at my cancer as any chronic disease.”
Another Lung Force Hero for the American Lung Association, Frank Sierawski was just 35 when he was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was stage 4—very advanced, and Frank was a father of three young children. Today, he’s happy to report that he’s surviving—and he’s constantly monitoring and managing his cancer as he would diabetes or heart disease.
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“Sometimes it’s necessary to keep seeking additional options.”
“Activate your courage and resilience to seek more options and thrive beyond cancer,” Heidi Bright advises anyone with a diagnosis of cancer. In 2009, Heidi Bright was diagnosed with aggressive end-stage uterine cancer. In 2011, she was sent home to die. Eight years later, however, Heidi is still here. “Using carefully selected integrative therapies, and healing my life, I’m enjoying radical remission,” she says.
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“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of support.”
Right after he left home to pursue his pro riding career, professional BMX rider Josh Perry had a fall that led to an MRI—which revealed a large brain tumour. Young, alone, and terrified, Josh could have crumbled. Instead, he reached out to his fans, friends, and family for help; through this support network he learned about treatments that saved his life. “My wish is anyone facing a terrifying diagnosis will find the strength to seek out the support they need.”
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“If something doesn’t nourish you, leave it behind.”
Elizabeth Nikol was only 29 when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Sixteen years later, she’s a survivor, not just of cancer but of the toll it took on her personal life. But she has no regrets: “Don’t settle in any way for the rest of your days. If you hate your job, find another. If a friend makes you feel bad, dump them. If a relationship is toxic, run for the hills.”
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“Diagnosis aside, I’m no closer to the end than anyone else.”
When she was just 34 years old, Sara Olsher was surprised to feel a strange sensation in her breast, similar to breastmilk being let down. With a gut instinct that something was wrong, she repeatedly advocated for early detection. A breast MRI revealed cancer in her milk ducts. “They initially thought it was a very early stage,” she says, “but during my double mastectomy, they discovered it had already spread to one of my lymph nodes. I had a very small tumour no one could feel, and I think it’s really important to note that if I hadn’t followed my instincts, I would have been unlikely to survive this.”
“When hope is in the equation, the odds don’t matter.”
“I’m a 12-year survivor of malignant pleural mesothelioma,” says Heather Von St. James. “When I was diagnosed, I was a 36-year old new mom… given just 15 months to live.” Her quote resonates because the odds of surviving mesothelioma are slim: “My doctor said it to me, and these are the words I live by.” Many cases of mesothelioma are caused by lung damage due to asbestos.
“First and foremost, I’m ALIVE!”
Cynthia MacGregor has been a survivor of cervical cancer since 1975. Back then, treatment was much harder on the body: “I’m left with certain, shall we say, souvenirs,” she says, “including chronic diarrhea from radiation.” Her own daughter died of cancer; so did Cynthia’s mother. But she’s still going strong at age 74—as is her granddaughter, who is also a cancer survivor. Ultimately, this is what matters, says Cynthia: “I love life and love being alive!”
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“Life’s short, eat freaking ice cream.”
If you’ve heard this one before, that’s because this is the tagline for Eat Vice Ice Cream, the brainchild of Dan Schorr, a former Good Humour Truck driver. After surviving an aggressive lymphoma in 2014, Schorr decided that he was going to fully indulge in life. That attitude led to the creation of his decadent, premium ice cream that you can now buy in 5,000 retail stores across the country. “Tumour with humour,” Schorr used to say during his treatments.
“Sometimes you gotta take a bullet to dodge a cannonball.”
Talk about optimism: After a heart attack, Joel Slaven went in for open-heart surgery. Upon waking, he learned that his surgeon had found lung cancer. “I survived lung cancer because my disease was discovered early and by accident,” he says. “My doctor says I’ll live decades, which will mean my mid-90s. I’ll take it!” As Slaven’s daughter, Samantha, says, “it’s a classic tale of good coming from bad.”
“My cancer made me value motherhood more than I’d ever have imagined.”
As a child, Brenna Carswell was fighting for her life against leukemia. Twenty-six years later, she still can’t believe she’s a mom. “I never had a childhood,” Brenna says. “In and out of hospitals—I had to grow up really fast.” Being a mom is a gift she never even thought to wish for when she was a child, but it’s a gift she’s grateful for every single day.
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“I learned to squeeze the juice out of life every single day.”
Lauren Chiarello beat Hodgkin’s twice, starting at age 23. She’s now 34, in remission, and hoping to inspire others through teaching fitness and sharing her passion for living life to the fullest. “Surround yourself with fellow life-lovers,” she advises everyone: “These are the magical people who lift you up.”
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“My diagnosis flung me into despair until it hit me: I’m alive.”
At the age of 34, Dana Dinerman was diagnosed with an aggressive and relatively late stage of breast cancer that has come back just as often as she’d battled it. While she became terribly depressed when she was first diagnosed, she realized she needed to embrace her life and enjoy the time she has. Seven years into her journey, she’s still alive and embracing life, and she considers herself a “thriver” as much as a survivor.
“Don’t forget to care of your body while you’re treating your cancer.”
Mike Smith’s prostate cancer was curable, and that’s what he focused on. That’s how he discovered SpaceOAR (the OAR part refers to “organ at risk”)—a temporary injectable gel that protects the surrounding tissues of men undergoing prostate radiation. “Having SpaceOAR reminded me of the Chicago Bears wearing shoulder pads—just added protection and insurance,” jokes the Bears fan.
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“I’m more alive than ever and making a difference.”
“Being a cancer survivor has become a constant opportunity to redefine priorities and realize my ambitions,” says Hernâni Oliveira. As a molecular oncology researcher, he wasn’t impressed with the quality of health information available to patients. “I gave up my job working in the laboratory to create solutions to promote health literacy.” Remarkably, that was before he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis.
“Don’t hate the cancer.”
There was a lot for Julie Barthels to hate about cancer, considering she was diagnosed with three different kinds (kidney, skin, and breast). But she realized three things: First, hating cancer would give it power; second, that she would do everything in her power to survive; three, her disease had something to teach her if she let it. And that’s what happened. Despite all of the challenges she faces, she lives a meaningful and intentional life with grace and gratitude.
“I didn’t survive… I lived… every single day just like every other day.”
When Sheila Anderson was diagnosed with thyroid cancer three years ago, she braced herself for the fight of her life—but she didn’t spend too much time pitying herself. “Instead, I focused my energy on going through it and not stopping and getting stuck in the negative aspect of the diagnosis and treatment.”
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“You learn what it means to take the good with the bad.”
“There are good times and bad times after surviving cancer,” notes thyroid cancer survivor, Roberta Perry. In her case, the good is what she considers the prize for “slogging through the chronic harshness of living without a thyroid. The bad makes the good all the more precious.”
“Get through cancer by promising yourself a better you is in the making.”
Ilse Anderson survived oral cancer by reminding herself that she was going to come through it stronger and better. One of the tools in her arsenal was meditation. “Through my daily practice, I nurtured my positive attitude and learned to let the negative go. I found I had to be patient with myself. Consistency is more effective than speed. Sometimes I didn’t walk as far as I had the day before, but I rose up and kept walking.”
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“There’s an obligation of the cured…”
“At 40, I’ve spent more than half my life as a cancer survivor, and that’s awoken in me a desire to change the world, says Doug Ulman. “A far as I’m concerned it’s the obligation of the cured.” Doug’s cancer journey began when he was 19. Over a 10-month period, he faced three cancer diagnoses. It was frightening, but he got through it, and now through good works—such as Pelotonia, a cycling-oriented fund-raising site for research on cancer—he’s on a mission for a “cancer-free world.”
“I cannot stress enough how important it is to catch skin cancer early.”
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“It took almost dying to find out who I really was.”
Christine Handy loves who she is now that she really knows who she is. She believes that never would have happened if she hadn’t had a life-threatening bout with breast cancer. “I love the new me and I have devoted my life post-cancer to helping and inspiring others.”
“My diagnosis was an opportunity to reprioritize, gain perspective, engage in life and with others.”
As a cancer survivor of 10 years, Robert Zembroski adopted a whole new mindset that went far beyond survival. A functional medicine specialist, Zembroski treated his victory over non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a call to educate and motivate others and to give hope to those who think there is no hope.
“No more powering through.”
Paige Davis, a breast cancer survivor, found that her cancer journey invited her to “take a pause,” rather than powering through. “Physically my body won’t allow me to go into autopilot,” she says, “and if things feel forced, it’s a sign to stop. I’m learning to be ok with the stillness and softness of the pause. This doesn’t mean I’m not a productive person, it just means I’m more mindful of where I’m spending my energy.”
“Surviving may mean learning to live with a new normal.”
Author, editor, and writer, Edith G. Tolchin, survived her 2005 bout with papillary thyroid cancer—and she chuckles at the notion that it’s known as a “good kind of cancer” to have. “People might not realize how difficult it can be to adjusting to life without a thyroid,” Edie tells Reader’s Digest. To get through it, she has had to accept her “new normal,” which has been both a humbling experience and an experience to grow as a person.
“Calling myself a survivor was hard at first, but here I am.”
Lung Force Hero Doris Castevens worries that when the general public hears “survivor,” the assumption is you’re cured and out of treatment. But that’s not always true, and definitely not for Doris, who was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. This incurable cancer has been “life-changing and challenging,” she says. Two years down the road, she’s planning to not just survive, but to thrive.
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“I no longer sweat the small stuff.”
It’s been said before, but breast cancer survivor Crystal Brown lives by these words every day. “Cancer has helped me live my best life because I appreciate each day more. I don’t sweat the small stuff and I certainly don’t waste time entertaining drama or foolishness.”
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“Surviving cancer was one of my greatest feats. I don’t take that for granted.”
Chris Kondracki was diagnosed with advanced-stage Hodgkin’s as a teenager in 1980. He beat the cancer, but he still feels the effects of his treatments today. Despite the challenges he faces nearly four decades later, he remains “eternally grateful to have the opportunity to live a wonderful life.” He also has been inspired to help others through the senior care agency he opened.