Patients, Survivors and Caregivers Share How Cancer Affected Their Identity

CURE® surveyed its audience to see if cancer has affected their identity. Here’s what they have to say.

Patients with cancer have described that cancer sometimes slowly chips away at their identity.

One survivor explained how the change from being viewed as a young athlete to a patient with stage 4 cancer has changed the way they viewed themselves while another explained how other peoples’ labels have subtly changed their behaviors and identities.

CURE® has even explored the way certain labels have affected the identities of people with cancer in a recent series of posts.

To learn more about the effect cancer can have on identity, we asked the CURE® audience in a #CureConnect question, on social media, “Have you felt cancer has changed your or your loved one's identity? Have you felt like the outside world views you differently since being diagnosed with cancer? Do you view yourself differently?”

Loss of Loved Ones and Peace of Mind


“Yes, I feel like most people tend to avoid getting to know me. They kind of act as if cancer is contagious. I don't blame them because people with cancer are a reminder of our own mortality and that is something nobody wants to be reminded of. I am reminded of it myself daily and it isn't pleasant. I would avoid it too if I could.” —Ronda B.

“My cancer didn’t change my identity. Since early adulthood, I feared getting cancer. My body wasn’t changed that much (I had a lumpectomy, and my tumor was, fortunately, small, so the incision was small). But after 23 years post-treatment, I still fear a recurrence, or different cancer.” — Carol R., a woman with stage 1 triple-positive breast cancer.


“(Cancer has) made me controlling and wanting to be perfect in doing everything I can to keep it away. It’s awful. (I am) working currently on knowing I’m doing my best and that I need to surrender. We are in God’s hands.”— Maria G.


“It robs you of who you are. I am a stranger in my own body”— Becky J.

“I have personally experienced misdiagnosis, bankruptcy, endless side effects from treatments (and) premature menopause. So much of the change cancer brings to our lives is the physical impact of the barbaric treatments, the socio-economic impacts of going bankrupt from poor insurance and outrageous medical bills (and) being forced onto Medicaid and food stamps.”— Carolyn L., a woman with metastatic breast cancer.

A Change in Perspective

“It has completely changed my identity. I lived a life of healthy privilege and blissful ignorance. Now I have worry and knowledge and live my life in three-month increments because of her test schedule. And I look at my daughters and granddaughter and see magic…every single time.” — Debbie Legault, a caregiver for her daughter who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27 and CURE® contributor.

“Cancer has changed a lot. Household roles have changed. My spouse takes on more than ever when we (used to) split the load. It's changed my identity in ways that I'm still learning about. I'll always be a cancer survivor, now. That's a powerful thing.”— Jason M., a stage 3C (T4a) colon cancer survivor.

Cancer Led to Reprioritizations

“Cancer woke me up. Staring the end right in the eye gave me the courage to change things in my life. Honestly, I’ve never been happier. Of course, I’m one of the lucky ones; I’m still here.

“I spent most of my adult life in a bad marriage. When cancer came along and my survival rate was low, my subconscious took the wheel and slowly started to change what I was willing to accept from my partner. Within four months of ending chemo, my now ex (partner) asked for a divorce. By the time the divorce was final, I’d…moved to a place I’d always wanted to live.

Today, I am happier and more authentic than ever before. In fact, I am writing this from a hotel in Cape Town, South Africa where I am helping my son ring in his 30th birthday. Sadly, it took cancer to make me live. Happily, cancer taught me how to live.”— Maureen C., an ovarian cancer survivor.

“I'm a completely different person. I see things differently and stand up for myself” — Kim O.

“(Cancer) changed my identity for sure! A bit in a negative sense that I’ve had to lament, but a couple of positive ways that I would never have realized was necessary prior to diagnosis.” — Erik Ellefsen, a patient with multiple myeloma who has participated in Moving Mountains for Myeloma.

Want to hear more thoughts from people who have been impacted by cancer? Check out our blog page, which is updated daily with insights from patients with cancer, survivors and their caregivers.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.