Making Peace With Cancer

I recently came to the realization that I may have no choice but to join the ranks of hundreds of thousands of cancer patients on this planet who don't fully beat cancer but don't die from it either. The patients who fall into the third option category. 

The ones who just learn to live with it.

I remember in June 1994 when Pedro Zamora made his debut on the third season of MTV's The Real World (back when reality TV was relatively new and not nearly as ridiculously insipid and sensational as is often the case now) as one of the first openly gay and HIV-positive men to appear on national television. Pedro is credited for starting to change the perception of those with AIDS as not dying, but "living with AIDS."

It took billions of dollars, decades of research, leaps in medical science, and thousands of men and women stepping forward to unashamedly proclaim their HIV+ status for this notion of "living with AIDS" to become part of our psyche as a nation. Although there is still no cure for AIDS, there are drugs that can successfully slow the spread of HIV in the body. And hundreds of thousands in this country have successfully lived with the disease for ten or twenty years or more. It is no longer considered a death sentence (at least not in the US).

I feel like that's where we are headed with cancer. Although there may not be a definitive cure anytime in the near future, treatments are becoming more and more laser-focused, enabling oncologists to tailor treatment to the specific DNA of a patient's cancer. The hope is that we'll eventually be able to control cancer much like we are able to largely control diseases like diabetes, or illnesses like the flu. There are still no cures for these conditions, but people don't die from them in droves the way they did in the past.

So... how does one live knowing that there is a potentially terminal disease in one's body? A disease that could rear it's ugly head and start spreading in the blink of an eye?

I don't yet know. But when I figure it out, I'll tell you. 

What I do know is this. All I can do is take it one day at a time, constantly trying to bring my thoughts back to center any time they start to stray into that dark "what if" territory. 

Because the truth is that the future is uncertain for all of us. All we have is today. And if we spend the lion's share of our precious time worrying about things we cannot control, we're going to miss out on what's happening in the moment. And these moments are pretty great. 

My daughter now runs toward me with arms outstretched, saying "mama". That's something I never thought I'd see. Every day brings new discoveries and fresh joy. These are the things on which I try to remain focused. 

So if there's cancer still inside me? I'll just keep beating it down and keeping it in it's place until I have no more options. But I'm not going to let it run my life. Because then it wins.


Image via Brooke Kelly

cancer, mental health


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JoMeara JoMeara

Beautiful post, by far you are one of my favorite authors on this site. You share, and inspire and for that I say thanks. Lately the awful crap of posts being offered up on this site, (oh yes it is a big steaming pile)  only incite mommy wars, and negativity & name calling. 

Thank you for sharing.


junecat junecat

Good luck to you Joanna.  You are very strong and a great inspiration.


Joie Turnbow

Joanna, Hi I'm Joie Turnbow Lisa's Mom. Lisa has kept me posted on your fight and I do believe your are winning. When my breast cancer came back in my lung in 2010 I was devasted. But even at 60 I was not ready to let cancer win. I have a lot of living to do and that is what I focus on. I just had my scans and for the first time I wasn't frightened or anxious to hear the results. I knew there was nothing there. Stay positive and concentrate on living you've got a lot of it to do.

James Shaw

When I think about cancer, I think about the people in the world who have done the most innovative things to treat it and succeeded at it, then I look at what they're up to nowadays. Follow the doctors who succeed. No need to play guessing games. My top following is the guy who built a cancer treatment and sold it for $6.5 BILLION (Erbitux, one of the top head and neck cancer treatments today). I think he's one of the people everyone should be following when it comes to the ultimate cure for cancer. This article was very informative for me in terms of figuring out where real scientists with hundreds of millions in personal wealth are putting their time, even when they don't need to work:
Follow the money, right? Why would someone with almost a billion dollars in personal wealth be working on this new cancer treatment? I bet this Erbitux guys believes he has found it...

Kathleen McAvoy Martin

Joanna -
I've been ready your blog thanks to Candy Howard's sister, Brooke Kelly. You're amazing!

I have a friend who first battled breast cancer in 1995 after finding a lump. She was free & clear for six years but it came back in 10/01. Since then, she's been living with tumors in her brain & elsewhere. Your analogy in regards to living with HIV really struck home. I just handed thought of it that way.

I hope that you beat this in whatever way you can!!

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