Celebrating Survival with a Meager Budget


Enjoying things right in front of me.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Mary Sansone

I just returned from a Moffitt Cancer Center Coffee Connection event where us members of the Patient and Family Advisory Council connect with patients and caregivers going into or waiting on surgery or other appointments.

One amazing gentleman told me about his cancer in the esophagus and how he now has his stomach up near his heart. He comes in for check-ups, but is in recovery and is training for a marathon!

An elderly veteran survivor of colon cancer and his wife shared about their recent river cruise in Germany amidst gorgeous mountains and castles. They were on their way to Peru and Antarctica. I could have listened to them for hours.

My AA sponsor spent glorious time in Costa Rica before she passed on from breast cancer. I am so happy she got to enjoy her dream.

They were enjoying life.


While in treatment for leukemia that required a bone marrow transplant, I conjured my future mended self running around the world, immersed in splendor. There would be trips to see orcas in the wild with a jaunt over to Rwanda to see gorillas, and onward to Asia’s Borneo Orangutan Rescue. I’d bike the South of France with my little brother and sunbathe in Hawaii with my sisters while watching breaching humpbacks. I would be volunteering everywhere and changing the world. Life is fleeting.

I can’t sashay my way to exotic places right now. My budget would send me to my room. 

After coming out on the other side of cancer and alcohol addiction, I felt a little pressure to do something monumental in celebration of my survival. I also felt a little pressure to constantly exhibit buoyancy and glee as a sign of gratitude to all those who saved my life — multiple times. I felt that calmly living a daily routine seemed like an insult to those who put so much energy into my recoveries and a poor use of my remaining time.

This thinking is foolishly self-induced. My life-saving family, doctors, and bone marrow donor are reasonable people. They support me in being wholly Mary in my remaining days — mundane or thrilling. Besides, I expect my family would be annoyed if I relentlessly pirouetted and sang cheerfully off-key. (I have been known to perform poor ballet leaps in front of the TV when a soul-stirring melody comes on to the amusement and tolerance of my perplexed siblings.) My loved ones would be thrilled if I took an amazing trip, but they are very much at peace with me living happily at home in good health.

I do have a sunnier soul post alcohol addiction and post cancer. I relish warm moments with an occasional dose of adrenalin. Not everything has to be MEGA.



All my dream trips center around animals. So, for now, I YouTube potato fairies and infant elephants. I mostly marvel at local Tampa fauna.

My sister Amy and I are hoping that the tapir at Tampa Zoo gets pregnant. I live a block from the bay and keep my eyes out for dolphins; I make noise every time I see them. I saw a shark fin skim the surface once! I kayaked among manatees. I love the woodpecker that visits the palm tree out my front window, the chatty squirrel gang in the trees by my car, and the resident ravens who have a slew of chirps and clacks and who, I swear, are having complex conversations about physics.

A visiting neighbor cat, Mikado, hates her new Pitbull brother, so sometimes she finds brief respite in my apartment. During a visit, she jumped up and planted herself on my lap, then purred and closed her eyes. She was making biscuits on my thighs with her kneading paws. I did not want to disturb her; she seemed so comfortable! And I didn’t know if she liked being picked up. So, I sat there with my sweatpants down, on the toilet without having to go anymore, with a cat taking a nap on my lap. For quite a while. “This is ridiculous.”

There are crickets here the length of my lower arm.


I could go to fancy French restaurants and experience sumptuous culinary innovations. For now, I put my tacos on my fine china. I eat alone, but I deserve fancy dinnerware. (I even put the china in the dishwasher! I’ve got 12 settings that were sitting in a drawer for God’s sake.)

On occasion I have a sumptuous steak and baked potato. Nummers. (Need to copyright that saying.)


I can be in Paris or in my kitchen with my sister Julie — both of us not being able to breathe during a lengthy laughing attack over something super stupid. This happens every time we do something together. She has the funniest stories. She once drove over a small tree and continued driving with branches sticking out from under her car! She meant to stop but had to let the carpool gang down the road know about the accident. She wondered why the people on the sidewalk were bending over with hysteria.

I can be cycling through Tuscany with my younger brother Dan, or chilling on the couch with him, watching one of his weird TV shows to enjoy his dry sense of humor. “Danny, this is so weird. What’s happening?” He just ignores me.

I can be in Vienna listening to the symphony, or in the hallway listening to my guitar-learning older brother Chris with his oft repeated stanzas to enjoy a musical experience. Okay, not quite the same. But he’s improving!

I can be seated in first class next to my younger sister Amy or just be texting her while in my pjs to relish amusing memories as roommates when we were kids. “Remember when we dived onto our bed and went pretend swimming while taking pretend phone calls from pretend boyfriends at our pretend pool party?”

I like life a lot more now. And it doesn’t take much. Everything is experienced with a new luminous undercurrent.

Yes, the alternate options are pretty darn cool. I am not going to dismiss more ambitious experiences to celebrate survival. Maybe one day I will make it to Vancouver and see the J-Pod orcas. Perhaps on my 5th anniversary post-transplant. Two and half years to go, God-willing.

In the meantime, I cherish love and wildlife every day. I will celebrate my lifesavers and inimitable me.

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