What Is a Cancer Survivor Supposed to Look and Act Like?

When people meet me for the first time and somehow the conversation drifts to something related to my cancer experience, my new friends are surprised. I have heard from them, on more than one occasion say, “You don’t look like a person who had cancer.”

Which makes me wonder… what does a person who has journeyed with cancer supposed to look like exactly?

Nearly five years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

To say this diagnosis was a shock is an understatement. I thought I was engaged in a routine screening in September 2012. I believed I would receive my usual “Everything looks good” word and then return home – glad I had done it and glad it was over.

It didn’t happen that way.

Not at all.

The radiologist observed clusters of calcifications and areas of increased tissue density indicative of breast cancer. The ultrasound scans confirmed these sightings. As she began to share her findings, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I could see her. I could hear her. However, her shocking revelation sent tremors through me. This seismic moment was not registering in my mind.

Somehow, though, I understood that the next step would be a biopsy. But it couldn’t happen there. The biopsy machine was broken at this particular office. I would need to go elsewhere to have the biopsy performed and to have the suspicious tissue analyzed.

When the biopsy finally occurred, and the phone call came, my cancer was confirmed. Thus, began my journey of interacting with a surgeon and then an oncologist and then radiation treatments. Over the past five years, my visits to the radiologist and oncologist have become a regular occurrence for me. Six to seven times a year, to four times a year, to three times a year to two times a year to where I am today – still under observation in an attentive and prescriptive way – one to two times a year.

One thing cancer showed me about myself was that my body held dangerous symptoms of contamination and decay in ways that were undetected by me. I didn’t see the cancer. I didn’t feel cancer. I didn’t even know I had cancer.

But today?

I see the scars of my cancer. I see the changes in my body because of cancer. I feel the physical effects of cancer. And I am making life choices regarding diet, exercise, and more as a result of my experience with cancer. I am very much aware of the impact of this disease and its influence in all aspects of my physical, emotional, and spiritual existence – even if my new friends do not.

I share these words today – nearly five years after my cancer diagnosis – because of the thoughts, feelings, and emotions associated with a disease that showed the effects of my physical depravity…

in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

New International Version, Romans 8: 20b – 21

If ever a verse was truer of me in light of my cancer experience and journey, it would be these words:

in hope

liberated from bondage to decay

brought into freedom and glory

child of God

My body, like so many, many, many others experienced the curse of cancer. Truth be told, the sin of man in the Garden, so long ago, sentenced us all to the bondage and the corruption of disease and death. For me, cancer truly accentuated the impurity, deformity, and infirmity of sin’s affliction to man and in my life.  Although the cancer had attacked a specific area of my body, its effects besieged my heart and soul as well.

I was presented with a choice.

I could live into the pain, fear, challenge and curse of cancer and face it with hope and courage.

I could become angry and bitter about my situation.

Or I could give up, collapse under the burden of cancer, and abandon my hope in God, in others and in life.

For me, for my family, for all those I love and care for, and for my God, I chose to journey with cancer in hope.

I chose to seek healing and liberation from my bondage to cancer that sought to destroy me.

I chose to believe that one day I would be free from this disease – whether on earth or in heaven – and see the glory of my God.

I chose to remember who I am.

I am a child of God.

I am a believer and follower of Jesus Christ.

I am a person of faith, hope, and love.

And I still am.

Jesus Christ freed me from the bondage to decay – in my body, in my heart, and in my soul.

Nearly five years after being diagnosed with cancer, living with cancer, being cut-free and burned-free of cancer, and journeying with the after-effects of cancer, I remain a hope-filled, child of God who desires to encourage others in faith and life.

This is my purpose.

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,  in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

New International Version, Colossians 2: 2-3

Friends, cancer is a terrible, terrible, terrible disease. I cannot think of anyone who has not experienced or been impacted by its cruel, ravaging impact; either upon they, themselves or upon those that they dearly love. To be healed and set free from cancer’s decay and ruin is what we all desire for those who have been diagnosed and who must travel a suffering, precarious, faith-stretching journey. This is why hope is so important.

Without hope, we are lost in cancer’s misery and despair.

In hope, however, we can look ahead with courage, conviction and expectation…

in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Elpis, the Greek transliterated word for hope, is a transformational hope fixed upon Jesus Christ and His sure, glorious return. This hope is not only about our liberation from cancer, but our liberation from the bondage to all matter of disease, depravity, and destruction caused by the fall of man.

This is the sure hope of Christ that I have and that I trust – no matter what has happened to me in the past, the present, or even the future.

I look forward in hope.

Friends, all of creation will be liberated and set free from the bondage to sin’s decay and destruction one day

What is a cancer survivor supposed to look and act like? I think it’s an individual choice. However, for me, I choose three behaviors.

I choose to

Hold fast.

Believe strong.

Hope always.

These are the lessons of life that I have gained through my experience with cancer.

I journey forward.

Will you join me?

2 Comments

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  1. Heather, God has blessed you in so many ways. But especially with the words you share with all of us. You are so right that cancer is just simply awful. And it affects all the loved ones surrounding the affected one. I did not physically have cancer, but emotionally my pain was greater than I could have ever imagined. Holding onto hope is the only thing that got me through the journey. Sadly, God needed my husband now and not later. But hope remained strong and is still my main priority. I hold onto that one thing because without it I am nothing.
    Heather, I celebrate with you on your almost 5-year cancer-free diagnosis. It is worth celebrating. Keep looking and acting like a cancer survivor because you are beautiful.

    • Wow, Shara! Thank you so much for writing to me and being such an incredible advocate of hope in the face of insurmountable pain and loss and untold grief. I am blessed to know you and call you friend. You are stunning – inside and out – how grateful I am to have met you at Sunset when I was on home assignment! All my love, heather

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