Cancer attacks in different ways, but readers say the end result is almost always a changed perspective on life. In response to the final installment in our special report "Low Blow: One man's battle with prostate cancer," readers described how their own lives were altered after being diagnosed with cancer.
Some learned to find joy in the small things, such as "a baby's laugh, crying in a movie and a smile that brings a smile from a stranger," writes Rebecca of Pittsburgh.
Several readers shared how cancer has left them feeling vulnerable. "I am always afraid and depressed and find it hard to keep going on some days," said Wendy of Tarpon Springs, Fla.
But others found that dealing with cancer gave them more confidence in handling all of life's struggles. "Life still has it bumps," writes Cathy of Louisville, Ky., "but cancer made sure that I knew just to step a little higher and I would get over them as well."
Read on for more responses:
I have just recently gone through surgery removing my prostate. ... Since my diagnosis I have been in contact with several men that have had the same procedure and we have shared many details, some very personal. I am now a survivor! From this day forward I will do my best to educate the unknowing and the many men out there who have cancer and are unaware. A simple biopsy, however painful, is priceless if cancer is found early enough, similar to my situation.
— Wayne,Tualatin, Ore.
I have had colon cancer since June of 2005. I am only 52 years now. I have been battling the disease for almost two years now. I went through 24 treatments of chemotherapy and four surgeries. The disease has spread to my liver. The cancer was detected at an early stage, but after the first surgery, the cancer came back with vengeance. Going through chemotherapy, I learned to appreciate death. ... I learned to appreciate my wife who stood by me through the whole ordeal. ... I am still around, for how long, I don't know. With cancer, you take life from day to day. People tend to grasp unto life. But, they must learn to grasp unto death and accept it as a gift from God.
— Frank, Helendale, Calif.
I am a six-plus-year survivor of breast cancer. I think how fortunate I am that a mammogram detected my cancer, a very aggressive grade but at an early stage. I think I've become much more tolerate of situations and of people since cancer. I don't know that I spent much time crying about it, a little maybe but life isn't always fair but every day that I'm alive and feeling good, is one day more. I don't even mind age any more!
— Sharon, Farmington, Minn.
I had prostate cancer surgery 19 months ago. I have suffered minimal after effects and all three six-month follow up tests have been negative. Yet I now have a feeling of vulnerability that is hard to put into words. On the positive side I now have a different sense of what in life is really important.
— Ken, North Carolina
I recently completed 10 rounds of chemo and 30 days of radiation for breast cancer. This experience has changed my perception of things. I feel like I'm getting a second chance at life, and I want to do "it" better. People treat you different when they know you have cancer. Some are scared and don't know what to say, but the majority treated me with kindness, support and caring. I want to show the same compassion that they showed me. I want to remember the compassion I saw in people when I'm frustrated with them. I would not have been strong enough to beat the cancer without my family, friends, and perfect strangers praying for me. My relationship with God has changed because I truly feel like he walked with me through all the treatments. I felt closer to Him and when I had a perfect mammogram on May 5, I knew that He had performed another miracle in my life.
— Francie, Round Rock, Texas
I am a survivor of cancer. I have had three bouts of three types of cancer (four if you count one that reoccurred). ... My life changed. ... I had been in a very up and down marriage for 14 years and kept saying "one day I will get a divorce." With the diagnosis, that one day arrived. No more fighting, no more crying, no more living for the future but living for the day. ... Just before treatment began I separated from my husband and moved him out of the house closer to his job two hours away. A huge boulder was removed from my shoulders and was ready both mind and body for the treatment. After treatment, life began to feel "normal" and I moved on with my life. Began dating and taking time for friends and family, something that always was put on the back burner during my marriage. The next year I took a job two hours from where I had called home all my life and made strides in my professional life as I had never dreamed. Although the cancer did return and I went through one more round of treatment, I felt this time that it was just a brief moment out of my life and I would go on. I am not sure that if I hadn't been diagnosed I would have ever found the nerve to finally get out of a bad marriage and would have still been saying "one day."
— Cathy, Louisville, Ky.
I am currently under treatment for an invasive form of cancer found in my uterus while I was pregnant this year. I'm a 31-year-old mother of two small children. The day I was told has changed me forever. I am always afraid and depressed and find it hard to keep going on some days. No one wants to leave their children or think of not being able to see them grow. I do have small hope that I pray will increase as treatment goes on. I can say to always be proactive about your health and remember that cancer comes in many forms and affects everyone even young healthy people.
— Wendy, Tarpon Springs, Fla.
In January of 2006, I was 24 years old and was diagnosed with having a large brain tumor. After a partially successful craniotomy, doctors told me that the tumor had turned out to be cancerous. It was not a curable type of cancer. An oncologist grimly told me that the average amount of time for a person with my kind of cancer to live is seven years. ... I spent the next 18 months on radiation and chemo therapy, both of which made me extremely ill. For months I thought that this was God's way of punishing me for something horrible I must have done. Now that I have finished my first and second rounds of treatment, my perspectives of cancer and life have both changed. Cancer is not a punishment for a past misdeed. People are not chosen to suffer in a negative form of "karma." Cancer has no prejudices — skin color, religion, age, nationality. Having survived 18 months of cancer has tremendously changed my life. I have a whole new enjoyment for life. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets are more vivid, the ocean has a greater depth of colors, and the blessings in my life have exponentially grown. Because of cancer, I have a new and greater appreciation for life as a whole.
— Lindsay, Virginia Beach, Va.
One year ago this month, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. ... The diagnosis has certainly made me more aware of how many Christmases or summers I may have left. For the most part, my life has pretty much picked up where it was pre-diagnosis. Each day is a good day. I was very angry and scared at first but that has dissipated with time. I finally have a little bit of hair of which I am most grateful for. ... Other than the scars and the memory, there is little left for anyone to suspect that I had cancer. I have learned to take one day at a time an be so very grateful for each one.
— Nancy, Ozark, Mo.
My cancer hasn't resurfaced in two years. ... Even though this had been the worst experience of my life, it truly was the best thing that's ever happened to me. I've learned some great lessons that most will not get the pleasure ... of learning, or at least not in the same manner that I did. ... Cancer is a tough thing to deal with. ... It can build a huge amount of character, or make a person bitter, and you have to think to yourself (because it can happen to you), which one would you be? ... Like I'm sure you've heard a thousand times before, everything happens for a reason, so you need to keep a watchful eye and an open mind when things do happen, because it might just be a blessing or gift in disguise, you'll always come out with more than you went in with. Cancer destroyed my life, but God put it back together.
We took up hiking about a year after my husband was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer in October 2003. ... During the past three years, we have climbed some of the most challenging mountains in the White Mountains. ... And it's not just my husband and me — our two sons have also taken to hiking and, quite unsurprisingly, they are much better hikers than we, the old folks. Treading those beautiful paths, taking in the unforgettable views created by this incredible artist, Nature, trying our own strength and perseverance — all of this gives us a sense of freedom from stress and of physical and mental prowess that we so badly need to continue living with the knowledge that the monster living inside my husband's body may raise its ugly head again any time.
— Eva, Boston