More and more people today benefit from early detection of cancer and successful treatment. Medical advances are improving both quality of life and length of survival, enabling many survivors to continue full and productive lives at home and at work.
In the United States alone there are an estimated 12 million cancer survivors, including 2.5 million women diagnosed with breast cancer. With many types of cancer today, more people are surviving than dying, and the numbers are increasing. Most of our impressions of the disease, however, come from fantasized versions produced for entertainment or fund raising purposes. Reality is a true human drama – physical changes, new priorities, losses, gains, careers destroyed, new careers started, personal challenges, family reunions, old friends reconnecting and more.
The New York Times has initiated an ambitious online project called “Picture Your Life After Cancer” in which cancer survivors tell their stories in their own words, and can post pictures of their post-cancer lives. The key question being asked is – “How has your life changed after cancer?” There’s no censoring and no attempt to transform people into warriors to support fund drives, just real people telling their stories and sharing what’s on their minds.
The first thing you notice in the photo mosaic is that cancer doesn’t discriminate or play favorites – there’s a broad range of ages, races, ethnicities, locations and levels of fitness. There are photos capturing sheer joy, as well as deep sadness. The words that accompany many of the photos are breathtaking too:
Sunny – Scottsdale, AZ – I was four months pregnant when I was diagnosed…My daughter was born healthy five months later and she recently blessed me with a baby girl. The “happy smile” scar stretched across my tummy reminds me that every day is to be cherished.”
Adrienne – New Orleans, LA – Six months after I finished treatment I accomplished two physical feats that I never imagined prior to treatment: I hiked the Grand Canyon in one day and completed…(a) half marathon. Going through…chemotherapy with a smile gave me the strength to know I could get through anything with grace.