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Words of Wisdom

Ovarian cancer survivor, Annette Leal Mattern, offers up advice on living with metastatic disease.

PUBLISHED March 21, 2011

Annette Leal Mattern has been living with a rare type of ovarian cancer called granulosa cell for the past 24 years. She has had multiple surgeries, several different types of chemotherapy regimens, participated in clinical trials and has had more than her fair share of recurrences.

As an author, advocate and survivor, she shares her "words of wisdom" on how she lives a full and meaningful life with ovarian cancer. 

1. Attitude is a huge component. My personal mantra is that I may not be able to choose the circumstances but I can choose how to have the experience. Every day, I choose gratitude, peace, optimism, living with purpose, accepting that this is my life and that it’s up to me to make the best of it.

2. I’m not suffering with cancer; I’m living with it. We think of pain and suffering as inextricably tied, but they are not. We may not have a choice about pain that comes with cancer, but “suffering” is an optional emotional response. How we manage our emotions determine whether or not we “suffer” with the disease.

3. I suggest that cancer patients explore all possibilities but listen to the experts. My personal inclination is to trust medical science, but I also believe in the power of faith, a strong support system, the difference that hope and a “will to live” make in survival, as well as the natural obsession of the body to heal itself. I try to help my body regain wellness by reducing toxins and boost its natural resources with anti-inflammatory nutrition, stress reduction, physical activity and purposeful living.

4. There is more to me than my cancer. Because I’ve lived with cancer a long time, in order to have a full and joyful life, I focus on levers beyond the medicine, such as my emotional health, anticancer foods, physical exercise, spirituality, my circle of support—all things that impact my life journey.

5. Self-advocacy is key to long-term survival, including being willing to question experts if you don’t understand something. I always let my doctors know that I will be active in my treatment decisions and want to know all of my options as well as their concerns. I seek second options and try to bring the best minds into my decision-making.

6. Attitude. For the first few years, I thought of cancer as a betrayal of my body. I hated it for spawning a demon that was intent on killing me. However, these feelings evoke destruction and anger, so I now live in internal harmony with my body by changing my thinking about it. I now believe my cancer is caused by cells that have lost their true purpose—not evil, just broken. Accepting my body keeps me focused on helping it heal what’s damaged.

7. My wellness program includes an anti-inflammatory diet augmented with anticancer foods, daily physical activity, daily meditation, yoga, journaling, living a life of purpose and letting go of toxic habits and relationships. Helping other women and using my journey to improve the outcome for others helps me reconcile having this disease for most of my adult life.

8. Never lose hope. Don’t let anyone steal your belief. Surround yourself with experiences that support your path to wellness. Finally, it’s more than medicine—ask yourself: “Am I doing everything I can do to help my body on this journey?”

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