Every year, towards the ends of all of the prestigious breast cancer walks, there are two lanes at the finish line; one for all of the supporters to pass through, and the other for all of the survivors who are cheered on by the massive crowds of people. It’s so beautiful to see all of the women who have survived this disease cross the finish line. My hope is always restored and my encouragement renewed. While participating in such events provides a sense of community and support, I have to be honest in admitting that I always feel a bit displaced, as I am not yet a survivor although I am surviving with an ongoing metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. I participated in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk this past Sunday in Central Park. At registration, I was given a “survivor sash” which I wore for the duration of the walk. Throughout the day several people came up and congratulated me on being a survivor. Everyone was so genuine and kind and I felt so supported and loved, yet in the back of my mind I kept thinking, “Am I a “survivor” although I am still on this cancer journey and have been told time and time again that I am incurable?” I am beginning to realize that the greater population assumes that one either wins or loses the battle with cancer, which isn’t the case.
Also, at the start of this year, I applied for a grant through an organization that provides financial assistance to younger individuals who have overcome cancer. The grants help people get back on their feet again after completing treatment. As I was reading the criteria to apply for the grant, it was evident that the grants were for those who had survived cancer… so much so that I had to call and ask if I would still be eligible considering I was still “fighting” and still on treatment. Turns out I was, which was awesome… but another instance where I didn’t really “fit in” or feel my circumstances were recognized. Their mandatory annual follow-up survey also asked questions only pertaining to life after cancer so most of the questions were non applicable to me. But again I couldn’t help but wonder why people living with cancer aren’t acknowledged.
Don’t over look us thrivers
These are just a couple of examples of the countless instances over the years, where I have felt like the large population of, as I like to refer to as “thrivers,” are overlooked. Although the words “survivor” and “thriver” are merely titles, they are very defining titles. I feel as if the thrivers, or people living with disease or metastatic breast cancer are often alienated from most of the social events and resources that revolve around cancer awareness and such. Survivorship, by social definition, is very “black and white”, or in other words, you either survive cancer or you don’t. But what about all of us in the “grey area?” There are so many of us living, and I plan on living for a very long time.
In addition to being one of the stage 4 women who is given a short life span in the eyes of the medical world, I feel estranged at times for a couple of other reasons. Firstly, I am very young to have this diagnosis. The chances of someone developing advanced breast cancer at my age are pretty slim to none. According to research studies, “Fewer than five percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. are younger than 40.” For this reason, I am kind of in a league of my own and coupled with this, I haven’t yet become a survivor. I am thriving and living with dis-ease provided I have been termed incurable. It’s been over 5 years now, and although I have been through some extremely trying circumstances, I make a conscious decision every morning to seize the day and live life to the fullest. No one has ever given me a promise of a “light at the end of the tunnel” although I never give in to the “no cure” prognosis. I know I will one day be a survivor but in the meantime, I will thrive!
In no way am I seeking pity nor is my intent to be negative, rather I am advocating for recognition of thrivers of metastatic cancer in hopes that more support and help can be made available as there is little to none. Thrivers need a sense of community or at least a small niche in this “cancer world.” There is something magical about being acknowledged and understood. Being seen as alive with the potential to live a normal life span can do wonders for women. I would love to bring more awareness to this topic and will try my hardest to do so. I anticipate more support and resources will become available as treatments become better and more women thrive with their circumstances.
In the meantime, here are a few resources I have stumbled upon over the years that have been extremely helpful to me as a thriver:
- Kris Carr: I absolutely love Kris Carr! She is so inspiring and someone I have constantly looked up to over the years. Kris is among a growing number of people living and thriving with cancer, and she is absolutely thriving to say the least! You can read her story in detail here. She has authored several books (“Crazy, Sexy Cancer” being my fav), appeared on countless shows, including Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday which is my favorite show (#goals) , and has been on the forefront for advocating a plant based diet and juicing as a means to healthy living. Check out her site for some crazy, sexy inspiration!
- Immerman’s Angels: This is an amazing organization a close friend of mine introduced me to years ago. They provide personalized connections that enable one-on-one support among cancer thrivers, survivors and caregivers. It’s common to feel alone or alienated with any cancer diagnosis, but through this organization’s massive network, they are able to match you with someone going though your exact circumstances. They have plenty of mentors who are thrivers too! You can also be a mentor for those in need if that’s something you are ready for. They host a ton of cool events and trips to provide support too. Check out their social calendar here.
- You Can Thrive: Although based out of New York, this foundation was a God send when I was living on the East Coast. This organization caters to survivors and thrivers and provides peer support, social gatherings and a host of free therapies to help thrivers including mediation courses, reflexology, acupuncture, nutritional counseling, sound therapy, massage…and the list goes on. If you or someone you know lives in the New York area, please check them out! They were such a huge support and game changer for me. I absolutely love YCT!
- Metastatic Breast Cancer Network: MBCN was founded in 2004 by Jane Soyer and Nina Schulman. When diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, they experienced feelings of isolation from the very groups established to provide support. They felt the stigma of being a ‘failure’ in the breast cancer community. Their belief that cancer cannot be viewed as a disease from which one is either a ‘survivor’ or to which one has succumbed, fueled their desire to advocate for change. MBCN strives to help those living with stage IV breast cancer be their own best advocate through providing education and information on treatments and coping with the disease.
- The Radical Remission Project: This site was modeled after the book Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds by Dr Kelly A. Turner. One of the first things I recommend to people I meet with cancer is to read this book! Dr Turner took a special interest in Integrative Oncology and traveled the world interviewing holistic healers and cancer survivors, most with stage IV about their healing techniques that led them to experience radical remission. As an extension of her book, The Radical Remission Project site allows for people to share or read stories of survival. Super inspiring and affirmation that all things are possible no matter what the given prognosis. Check out the site and read the book if you haven’t already. It really changed my life and outlook.
I hope these resources are helpful for you or someone you may know who is thriving or living with cancer. They have helped me tremendously on my own personal journey. If you know of any other helpful resources or inspirational peeps for cancer thrivers, please do share! I would love to hear from you. I am always searching for inspirational resources for myself and to pass along. I hope that my site serves as one for you.
Ideally, one day in the near future, we will all be survivors who are thriving after cancer!