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“If something doesn’t nourish you, leave it behind.”

“If something doesn’t nourish you, leave it behind.”
COURTESY ELIZABETH NIKOL

Elizabeth Nikol was only 29 when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Sixteen years later, she’s a survivor, not just of cancer but of the toll it took on her personal life. But she has no regrets: “Don’t settle in any way for the rest of your days. If you hate your job, find another. If a friend makes you feel bad, dump them. If a relationship is toxic, run for the hills.”

“Diagnosis aside, I’m no closer to the end than anyone else.”

“Diagnosis aside, I’m no closer to the end than anyone else.”
COURTESY SARA OLSHER

When she was just 34 years old, Sara Olsher was surprised to feel a strange sensation in her breast, similar to breastmilk being let down. With a gut instinct that something was wrong, she repeatedly advocated for early detection. A breast MRI revealed cancer in her milk ducts. “They initially thought it was a very early stage,” she says, “but during my double mastectomy, they discovered it had already spread to one of my lymph nodes. I had a very small tumour no one could feel, and I think it’s really important to note that if I hadn’t followed my instincts, I would have been unlikely to survive this.”

“When hope is in the equation, the odds don’t matter.”

“When hope is in the equation, the odds don’t matter.”
COURTESY HEATHER VON ST. JAMES

“I’m a 12-year survivor of malignant pleural mesothelioma,” says Heather Von St. James. “When I was diagnosed, I was a 36-year old new mum… given just 15 months to live.” Her quote resonates because the odds of surviving mesothelioma are slim: “My doctor said it to me, and these are the words I live by.” Many cases of mesothelioma are caused by lung damage due to asbestos. Here are some other things that can damage your lungs.

COURTESY CYNTHIA MACGREGOR

Cynthia MacGregor has been a survivor of cervical cancer since 1975. Back then, treatment was much harder on the body: “I’m left with certain, shall we say, souvenirs,” she says, “including chronic diarrhoea from radiation.” Her own daughter died of cancer; so did Cynthia’s mother. But she’s still going strong at age 74 – as is her granddaughter, who is also a cancer survivor. Ultimately, this is what matters, says Cynthia: “I love life and love being alive!”

“Sometimes you gotta take a bullet to dodge a cannonball.”

“Sometimes you gotta take a bullet to dodge a cannonball.”
COURTESY DR. JOEL SLAVEN

Talk about optimism: After a heart attack, Joel Slaven went in for open-heart surgery. Upon waking, he learned that his surgeon had found lung cancer. “I survived lung cancer because my disease was discovered early and by accident,” he says. “My doctor says I’ll live decades, which will mean my mid-90s. I’ll take it!” As Slaven’s daughter, Samantha, says, “it’s a classic tale of good coming from bad.”

If you smoke cigarettes, quitting is the best thing you can do to prevent lung cancer. Check out these 15 mind-blowing ways your body heals itself after smoking. 

“My cancer made me value motherhood more than I’d ever have imagined.”

“My cancer made me value motherhood more than I’d ever have imagined.”
COURTESY BRENNA CARSWELL

As a child, Brenna Carswell was fighting for her life against leukaemia. Twenty-six years later, she still can’t believe she’s a mum. “I never had a childhood,” Brenna says. “In and out of hospitals – I had to grow up really fast.” Being a mum is a gift she never even thought to wish for when she was a child, but it’s a gift she’s grateful for every single day.

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“I learned to squeeze the juice out of life every single day.”

“I learned to squeeze the juice out of life every single day.”
COURTESY DIANA DAVIS

Lauren Chiarello beat Hodgkin’s twice, starting at age 23. She’s now 34, in remission, and hoping to inspire others through teaching fitness and sharing her passion for living life to the fullest. “Surround yourself with fellow life-lovers,” she advises everyone: “These are the magical people who lift you up.”

“My diagnosis flung me into despair until it hit me: I’m alive.”

“My diagnosis flung me into despair until it hit me: I’m alive.”
COURTESY DANA DINERMAN

At the age of 34, Dana Dinerman was diagnosed with an aggressive and relatively late stage of breast cancer that has come back just as often as she’d battled it. While she became terribly depressed when she was first diagnosed, she realised she needed to embrace her life and enjoy the time she has. Seven years into her journey, she’s still alive and embracing life, and she considers herself a “thriver” as much as a survivor.

“Don’t forget to care of your body while you’re treating your cancer.”

“Don’t forget to care of your body while you’re treating your cancer.”
COURTESY MIKE SMITH

Mike Smith’s prostate cancer was curable, and that’s what he focused on. That’s how he discovered SpaceOAR (the OAR part refers to “organ at risk”) – a temporary injectable gel that protects the surrounding tissues of men undergoing prostate radiation.

“I’m more alive than ever and making a difference.”

“I’m more alive than ever and making a difference.”
COURTESY UNION FOR INTERNATIONAL CANCER CONTROL (UICC)

“Being a cancer survivor has become a constant opportunity to redefine priorities and realise my ambitions,” says Hernâni Oliveira. As a molecular oncology researcher, he wasn’t impressed with the quality of health information available to patients. “I gave up my job working in the laboratory to create solutions to promote health literacy.” Remarkably, that was before he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

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