Back to the Moon: On Becoming a "Cancernaut"


When I unexpectedly joined the cancer program, just before my 50th birthday, I was sure I had the “right stuff” to meet the challenge.

I was 8 years old when we first stepped on the moon. Even at that young age, I knew that it meant we were living in a new world. I watched as the marvels of the space age, and I don’t just mean the wonder that was Tang, sprung up all around us.

As a seven-year survivor of a rare thymic cancer, I feel like that 8-year-old child again as I think about the possible future as we start the new cancer moonshot, proposed by Joe Biden. When I unexpectedly joined the cancer program just before my 50th birthday, I was sure I had the “right stuff” to meet the challenge. However, I was reluctant to join the arms race that is the war on cancer. I’m a pacifist to my core, and the battle against cancer never seemed like a fair fight.

Thanks to the moonshot initiative, I can now adopt a frame of reference for survivorship that feels like a perfect fit. I prefer to think of myself as an explorer, a "cancernaut," if you will, boldly going where many have gone before, only this time with the nation and the world cheering me on.

President Kennedy told the nation that the original moonshot would “serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

How can we expect anything less once we unleash the powers of our new technological age on this deadly disease? How can we not feel the swell of pride in the realization that we stand at a turning point in human history?

Let’s face it, the final frontier is not the depths of space, but the depths of the human experience. For too long, cancer has left its mark on this experience, often having the last word. The attempt to silence this voice through an all-out war has left many of us feeling like refugees, rather than heroes. With this new endeavor, we can rise above our reflexive tendency to fight fire with fire, and, instead, light the flame of inspiration and hope for millions. It makes perfect sense, in a war weary world, to adopt a new paradigm for treating cancer. Imagine the possibilities when we turn rage into enthusiasm—when the summary of a cancer survivor’s life no longer opens with the line, “He lost his battle with cancer,” but instead, “He took living with cancer to new heights.”

Related Videos
Image of a woman with dark brown hair and round glasses wearing pearl earrings.
A man with a dark gray button-up shirt with glasses and cropped brown hair.
Woman with dark brown hair and pink lipstick wearing a light pink blouse with a light brown blazer. Patients should have conversations with their providers about treatments after receiving diagnoses.
Man in a navy suit with a purple tie. Dr. Saby George talks to CURE about how treatment with Opdivo could mitigate disparities in patients with kidney cancer.
Dr. Andrea Apolo in an interview with CURE
Dr. Kim in an interview with CURE