Thoughts on Death and Cancer


When a friend recently asked if I’d ever thought cancer might kill me, I had to think back and examine myself.

Bonnie Annis talks about the time a friend asked if she thought breast cancer would kill her.

Recently, over lunch, a friend and I were talking. We covered various subjects as we caught up on each other’s lives. Suddenly, she took me by surprise when she asked, “Did you ever think cancer would really kill you?” I was dumbfounded, but as I watched her face, I realized she was serious.

It had been almost 10 years since my diagnosis. Cancer seemed so far behind me; it was like another lifetime ago. I rarely gave that part of my life much thought at all. I was well past the treatment and healing phase. I wondered why she was asking such a curious question now. We hadn’t been on the topic of cancer.

As we sat in the restaurant finishing our meal, we made small talk, but in the back of my mind, there was an elephant in the room — her question.

On my way home, I heard her voice echoing in my mind. It was an innocently curious question; one I would have asked a friend, had I not been the one to experience breast cancer, so I completely understood her interest. But in thinking back, I had not remembered asking myself that question.

Of course, the day I received the news I had cancer growing in my body, I was immediately fearful. And yes, for a brief time, I wondered how long I would live, but I don’t think I ever really thought I might be killed by the disease. Something inside me knew I was going to do everything possible to survive. That tenacity or stubbornness, some might say, is what forced me to want to do whatever possible to live.

The more I thought about the question, the more I realized hope also played a key role in my survivorship. If I hadn’t clung tightly to hope for a vibrant future, I believe the outcome of my case would have been vastly different. I would have given up and given in to the awful disease that was ravaging my body.

My friend’s question prompted me to wonder what part a positive outlook played in survivorship. I wondered if it could be the key to living or if there were other mitigating factors like heredity, time of disease discovery, stage, grade, age, health or how quickly treatment was started. Some might say it’s the luck of the draw, while others may lean heavily on the side of faith. I tend to be in that camp.

Cancer does take many lives but there are instances where people survive extended periods completely undiagnosed. Others live with their cancer while undergoing various forms of treatment. If I’d given in to thoughts that cancer was definitely going to kill me, I seriously doubt that I’d have done any form of treatment at all. I’d probably have left my doctor’s office feeling defeated and lost.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Choosing to fight cancer was the best choice for me.

Yesterday, I learned another friend has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The doctor gave her a grim diagnosis — only six months to live. When she received the news, she didn’t want to accept it, so she decided to go for a second opinion. The second doctor concurred with the first. But even with confirmation that her time was short, my sweet friend decided she wanted to fight.

I hope and pray she outlives the diagnosis she has received. I know I’ll be praying for her and doing everything within my power to show her love and support. That’s another vital piece of the cancer survival puzzle I believe extends survivorship.

“Did you ever think cancer would really kill you?” No. I never did. And I won’t give that thought a place in my life today either. I refuse to fill my mind with negativity. It’s not productive and I won’t live in fear.

While a diagnosis of cancer is very scary and often thought of as a death sentence, it doesn’t always turn out badly. In July, I’ll celebrate my 10th year of survivorship and you’d better believe it’s going to be a memorable party. At age 66, every day I wake up on this side of heaven is cause for celebration. I can hardly wait to see what my 11th year of survivorship will be like!

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