Cancer's Silver Lining

Survivors share the positives of cancer.

BY DON VAUGHAN
PUBLISHED: DECEMBER 22, 2009
“Some people are just blown away emotionally, with a lot of worry, fear, and anger,” Tedeschi explains. “They have to somehow make the transition to thinking about their experience in a calmer, more deliberate way, so that they can see how it may be changing them. One way is to talk with someone who has already gone through a similar experience, or by joining a cancer support group.”

For Judy King of Pompano Beach, Florida, cancer brought a spiritual awakening. While receiving chemotherapy following her breast cancer diagnosis at age 35 in March 1994, King was casually examining a small blister on her foot when she was struck by the unique healing ability of the body.  

King, who had been raised an agnostic, says this simple, yet profound realization helped transform her from an agnostic to believing in God.

“This transition gave me the ability to quit worrying about myself and my treatments and actually ‘let go and let God,’ ” King says. “When my friends ask me to tell them something positive about my cancer, I tell them that because of it, I found God, and I also got a few months’ reprieve from shaving my legs.”

Some survivors find their mission in life after cancer when they decide to become advocates for their fellow cancer patients. While in the hospital with a rare and aggressive form of cervical cancer in April 2008, 36-year-old Sarah Fisher of Phoenix, Arizona, became friends with her hospital roommate, Deborah, who had advanced cancer.

After Deborah’s death in early 2009, Fisher wanted to honor her late friend. So she founded Deb’s Day, a nonprofit organization that enlists salons and beauticians to provide personal care free of charge to seriously ill hospital patients.

“I believe my fight with cancer was actually a good cause, for without it I never would have met Deborah or founded Deb’s Day,” Fisher says. 

Similarly, Robin Smalley, a former Hollywood producer and writer, felt compelled to help others after her experience with breast cancer in 2001, which was ollowed by two tragic events: Her mother died in her sleep at age 66; and then Smalley’s best friend, Karen Besser, died suddenly while undergoing simple shoulder surgery. The losses threw Smalley, 48 at the time, into depression. 

Besser’s brother, Mitch Besser, MD, a researcher at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, was working to help stop the mother-to-child transmission of HIV. He had begun mothers2mothers in 2001, but didn’t know how to grow it into a viable organization. After Smalley visited Besser in Cape Town and met the women he was treating, she called her husband to say the family would be moving to South Africa to help make mothers2mothers a reality. 

“Being around women who didn’t have good fortune, as I did, yet who managed to face their HIV status with courage and spirit and a smile, now they were survivors,” says Smalley. “In the wake of breast cancer, m2m gave me the perspective to look beyond my cancer and to be inspired by true courage. Their desire to rise above their circumstances to help others made me realize that I can do the same.” The Smalleys stayed for more than a year and still visit frequently.

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