Back before my cancer diagnosis in 2008, people often marveled at my near-perfect life.
I didn’t discredit such observations. I knew I was fortunate. I’d married my college sweetheart, found a job teaching religion at Minnesota university close to family, given birth to two beautiful daughters, and was surrounded by a tight network of support.
I called it my 95% ideal life.
A bigger kitchen and fewer late-afternoon meetings and I’d be pushing 100%.
Then it came. The news we all fear. News that we’re very sick, that we might not recover.
My particular version of the news was stage IV metastatic breast cancer, coming a week after my 42nd birthday. The cancer had metastasized to a dozen places in my bones, fracturing two vertebrae and confining me to a torso brace and other than hospital and clinic appointments, to the four walls of my house.
During those bleak early days after the diagnosis, it seemed like I was dying. I was forced to resign from my full and wonderful life, and all virtually all signs indicated that my living in the land of the well was over.
But as is the case for growing numbers of people with advanced-stage cancers, I find myself living longer and better than statistics predict. I am fortunate to be under the care of excellent health care professionals; I continue to be surrounded by supportive family and friends, and strong communities at church, work, home and beyond. My oncologist tells me that in the future, being diagnosed with incurable cancers like the one I have will not be a death sentence; instead it will look like a chronic illness that can be treated long term.
So far I seem to be living in that future. I’m so thankful to be able to live with stage IV cancer.
At the same time, figuring out how to live in the aftermath of a devastating diagnosis is not easy. One of the challenges is what language to use to talk about life post-diagnosis. “Survivor” is a word often used to describe life after being treated for cancer. For me and for many others, however, cancer is not just a past event we’ve survived but an ongoing reality of living with cancer and/or its aftereffects. This is why I’m not sure “survivor” is a big enough word to capture life in cancer’s wake.
This is one of the reasons I like the term “Thrivors.” It builds on the term “survivor” but goes beyond it to say something about how we might live post-diagnosis. I signed on to write for Thrivors because I want to think along with a community of people figuring out how to live well in the aftermath of cancer’s invasion into our lives. I look forward to sharing with you some of the ways I’ve come to think about living well with cancer and to hearing your insights as well. Let the conversation begin!
Deanna Thompson has taught religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota for over twenty years. Since her cancer diagnosis in 2008, she writes and speaks widely about living with cancer and how living with a serious illness impacts issues spirituality and faith. See her website, www.hopingformore.com, for more information about her book, Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace, as well as videos, articles, blog posts, and more.
–Thrivors Thought Leaders – Deanna Thompson