Is a cancer conqueror the same thing as a cancer survivor? Perhaps.
First, how do we define survivor?
Macmillan Cancer Support defines a cancer survivor as someone who is "living with or beyond cancer", namely someone who:
• has completed initial cancer management and has no apparent evidence of active disease;
• is living with progressive disease and may be receiving cancer treatment, but is not in the terminal phases of illness; or
• has had cancer in the past.
This definition is specific & covers a broad range of cancer patients, but it does not capture the spirit of the cancer conqueror. Can a cancer survivor & a cancer conqueror be one & the same? Yes, but not every survivor is a cancer conqueror. Not every cancer conqueror will be a cancer survivor. That is the ultimate hope, but it is not the ultimate issue at stake.
I have wanted to use the term Cancer Conqueror in “My Story” & my blogs but could not decide how to give you a short definition of who or what a Cancer Conqueror is. I hope this will help you understand the core beliefs of a Cancer Conqueror that are the basis of his or her mindset, which results in specific actions & responses. This involves body, mind & spirit. It’s so exciting to learn how you can become a Cancer Conqueror &, in the process, may even cure it! How exciting is that? I hope you benefit from the journeys as much as I have.
When you read these chapter summaries & find out what a Cancer Conqueror is, I would say I don’t remember meeting many cancer patients or survivors who truly embodied the Cancer Conqueror spirit portrayed in the book I will summarize. I do remember talking to 1 Cancer Conquer rather early in the journey. It was only a brief conversation, but it was quite meaningful!
Greg Anderson uses the term Cancer Conqueror in several of his books. The Cancer Conqueror (1988) was re-titled Journeys With the Cancer Conqueror when it was reprinted, in 1999. This book is described as an honest and understandable modern-day parable that shows how a positive attitude and a hopeful spirit affects cancer and may even contribute to its cure. Its reader follows a step-by-step transformation from despair to hope. Patients are left encouraged that this day, this hour, this moment, is the time to create well-being, body, mind, and spirit.
The purpose of this series of blogs is to summarize the book. Although it was out of print when I was searching for it, I was able to obtain a copy by searching Amazon.com, where I found a few copies & ordered one.
I’ve read several books about people who have survived cancer. They are heart-warming, encouraging & often inspirational. Even in those cases where the story is miraculous & awe-inspiring, I have found that most of these feelings are temporary. Although they are wonderful books that we need to have available & to read, Journeys with the Cancer Conqueror is very different. It is a practical, action-oriented guide for cancer patients, survivors, care-givers, & family members & loved ones of cancer patients or survivors, which considers body, mind & spirit in the journey with cancer. Among its many goals is helping the reader find peace of mind & hope. Anderson does relate these to knowing God, but I can tell you from personal experience that they are not possible, on a permanent basis, apart from a personal relationship with God. This modern-day parable provides ample dialogue between the Cancer Conqueror & the man in the story, as they make several journeys, to allow the reader to relate to the thought processes that a cancer patient goes through on this journey.
Reading Journeys With The Cancer Conqueror I found it ironic to discover that God, acting as The Cancer Conqueror in my life, had been teaching me the lessons the Cancer Conqueror relates to the man in the story, on each of his 7 journeys. I can see that the 8 strategies Anderson discovered cancer survivors have in common [which I’ve reprinted below] are principles that have a much broader application than conquering cancer. They also help me express what I have done to emotionally, spiritually, physically, & psychologically conquer this disease. Previously, my explanation was, ‘it’s a package deal.’ I would try to explain that there are numerous factors involved; there isn’t a single element that I can point to as the sole reason for what is happening in my life, emotionally, spiritually, physically, & psychologically. Although I can say God is the most important element, I cannot leave out the fact that I have an important role to play. I know I am responsible for many aspects, but God is in control of the results. Nutrition & exercise also play an important role, as do supportive relationships. The list could go on & on. These 7 chapters develop the basis of discussion to help others who are struggling with cancer. If God had not spoken to me & told me that my cancer is not a death sentence, I would want either to read what is written in these 7 chapters or to have someone, who is a Cancer Conqueror, talk with me to share this information, these beliefs, these convictions, & these passions with me. I’m very excited to share this project with you! What you are about to read is not just words on the computer screen; they are words from my heart to yours. I pray they will make a difference in your life.
I’ve struggled, along the way, with how to relate to other cancer patients. How do I begin to dialogue with them, to give them hope, when they are not beginning their journey, as I did, with an assurance from God, before hearing the results of my 1st biopsy, that my cancer “is not a death sentence”? Where do I start, to give reasonable hope? Yes, I can share my faith in God & pray for them. Is that enough? It certainly is, if I’m not a cancer patient. What did I want? I did want prayer & concern, but not a pity party or indifference. My expectations were different for those who had been down the cancer road, as opposed to those who had not. What did I want from cancer patients & survivors? Did I get it? Hummm . . . Lots to think about. . .
After reading this book, I can see that God played the role of The Cancer Conqueror in my own life – WHAT A BLESSING! I believe He should play that role, even if we find a cancer survivor who is a Cancer Conqueror. If you don’t have a personal relationship with Him, you should start the journey by searching for a cancer survivor who is a Cancer Conqueror. I pray, as you read these chapters, you will be drawn to Him & desire a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, as your source of unconditional love, hope, encouragement, & strength.
I can’t imagine traveling this journey without God. He has repeatedly proven the truth of Philippians 4:13 [Amplified Bible] “I have strength for all things in Christ who empowers me – I am ready for anything & equal to everything through him who infuses inner strength into me, [that is, I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency].”
The following is a series of excerpts from chapter 1 of Journeys with the Cancer Conqueror: Mobilizing Mind & Spirit, by Greg Anderson, 1999, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Kansas City, Missouri. Emphasis is added with bold print to draw attention to cancer conqueror traits.
Most of the summary is quoted directly from the book, but I also add editorial comments along the way that reflect my own personal convictions, Scriptural support of ideas expressed, as well as research from other resources. These are indicated by italicized print. Portions in blue print that are NOT italicized are direct quotes from another source other than the Bible.
Foreward by Abigail Van Buren
“Cancer conquerors don’t resign themselves to the inevitable.” What do we think of as the inevitable? Most of us assume that the diagnosis of cancer equates with inevitable death. However, “You can conquer cancer – you can recover.” This requires a “mental battle plan.”
Abigail Van Buren says this book tells the reader how to “establish an active role in their own recovery” It allows the reader to “tap deeply into their spirits & uncover the incredible healing power of hope by realizing, ‘I am stronger & possess more resources than I thought!’ This helps the patient evolve from barely surviving to living in a state of grace, able to celebrate each sacred moment.”
(While hope cannot literally heal, it can have a healing effect, as you will see later in the discussions of the mind-body-spirit connection. Our source of hope is in God. Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy & peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”)
In her final paragraph, Abigail says, “Reading books can change lives. And this book will change yours, by revealing a secret: When you discover you have cancer, you do have a choice – you can prepare to die or you can prepare to live. It is exactly when you make choices about your life & your treatment that your cancer no longer controls you [mentally & emotionally].”
I've inserted the list below, which was included in the blog, "Growth Rate of Cancer – How Long Has it Been There?” posted June 25, 2009. As you read these 7 journeys, keep in mind the 8 strategies survivors have in common. Can you see these strategies utilized? Can you see how you might implement them on your journey?
Eight Strategies Survivors Have in Common
1. Medical treatment – Survivors literally take charge of the management of their entire medical program: They choose doctors in whom they have confidence; they consent only to treatment programs about which they have convictions; & survivors aggressively integrate complementary & alternative treatment approaches. . .
2. Beliefs & Attitudes – Cancer survivors choose beliefs & attitudes about their illness, as well as their potential for wellness, that empower. The most fundamental & empowering belief is that cancer does not equate with death . . . survivors recognize [the] truth – cancer may or may not mean death. This intellectual stance carries a vastly different outlook from either the super-positive or hopelessly negative beliefs & attitudes. Survivors believe, “Yes, I may die. But I also may live. And I am going to invest my time, whatever the length, in living the best way I know.”. . . [Survivors] challenge the conventional thinking about treatment & potential side effects. They choose to conceive of their treatment as highly effective, believing that they will have minimal & manageable side effects. . . They believe their active personal involvement is absolutely essential to the recovery process.
3. Exercise – Cancer survivors believe strongly in the importance of exercise, & they act on that belief.
4. Purpose/Play Balance – Purpose involves survivors perceiving that they are needed, that their life has special & unique meaning . . . a life mission . . . Survivors balance this profound idea of life purpose with a lighter, more playful attitude of fun for fun’s sake, an outlook that creates joy.
5. Social Support – Cancer survivors invest more time & emotional energy in relationships that nurture them & invest less in those that are toxic. . . Cancer tends to give patients permission to examine a wide variety of their life choices, including their social support system.
6. Diet & Nutrition – The majority of cancer survivors report making significant dietary changes. . . “Survivors eat with awareness.” They raise their nutritional IQ & develop a greater understanding of the nutrients contained in their food selections. Survivors also feed themselves less for emotional & psychological reasons, concentrating instead on delivering premium nutrients to the body. They embrace foods that are less processed. There is a documented shift to a more vegetarian approach. Fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, & whole grains are the new foods of choice. A marked decrease in all meat, particularly red meat, is widely held to be beneficial.
7. Creative Thinking – Survivors mobilize the mind to heal. Affirmations, meditation, & imagery are widely employed within the context of a comprehensive treatment program. Survivors use meditative techniques to reduce the symptoms of illness, manage the side effects of treatment, & improve emotional well-being.
8. Spirituality – Survivors embrace a more spiritual perspective. They view life differently than prior to their brush with death. . . To call spirituality a “strategy” is inadequate; “spiritual transformation” is a more accurate description. Thousands of survivors demonstrate entirely new spirit; they become new people.
Each survivor creates his or her own specific recovery plan within the structure of these eight strategies. One principle takes priority at the appropriate time. Seldom do survivors make simultaneous wholesale changes in all eight areas. Those who attempt to change too much too quickly often meet with temporary defeat & have to start again.
This information is a small portion of the information on this topic, from Greg Anderson’s book, Cancer – 50 Essential Things to Do. The list is the result of compiling the data from having contacted survivors across North America & conducting interviews with patients who were “supposed to die” but lived. These are the strategies that were common among the more than 15,000 people he had interviewed, as of the writing of his first book, The Cancer Conqueror, published in 1988.
Preface by Greg Anderson
Greg begins by telling readers, “It is possible to survive, even thrive, following a cancer diagnosis.”
He is a survivor of metastatic lung cancer. In 1984, he had one lung removed, but 4 months later the cancer was back. This time it invaded his lymph system. The surgeon told him, “Greg, the tiger is out of the cage. Your cancer has come roaring back. I would give you 30 days to live.”
(In Cancer: 50 Essential Things To Do, Anderson states the following: “Part of the reason that the surgeon was mistaken is that no healthcare provider can predict a patient’s response to illness. After a couple of days of believing I would die, I made a profound decision. I decided to live!
“Please clearly understand what I’m saying. By deciding to live I made a decision to do all I could to triumph over the cancer. I determined to live each day I was given to the very best of my ability. I chose not to focus on the despair implicit in the surgeon’s words; I would instead adopt a stance of hopefulness. These decisions drastically changed my experience of illness. This resulted not only in better days but many more days as well. I believe such a decision may result in a similar outcome for you.
“This message has its critics; it’s controversial. More than once, esteemed members of the health community have publicly accused me of spreading false hope. My answer is simple & direct. I believe there is no such thing as false hope, there is only reasonable hope. Reasonable hope is a medicine worthy of consumption in large doses.
“What is clearly false is the pronouncement that sets a limit on ‘false hopelessness.’ It is false because no human being knows how long anyone has left to live. To prognosticate in such a manner is not only unprofessional, it is unethical. Healers [Doctors] instill hope. They do not schedule death.
I understand that Anderson is referring to doctors as healers, but doctors cannot heal. God may use them as instruments & work through them, but only God can heal. Exodus 15:26b “I am the Lord, who heals you.”)
“So decide to live! Embrace hope. [Having] hope heals. It is a decision that always leads to better days & perhaps more of them as well.”
(Psalm 62:5 “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.” Psalm 103:2-3 “Praise the Lord, O my soul, & forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins & heals all your diseases.”)
Through this experience, he says, “This much has become increasingly & abundantly clear to me: The body’s healing capacity is directly linked to one’s mental & spiritual well-being. Embracing healthy beliefs & attitudes, learning to effectively resolve emotional distress, & moving in the direction of greater joy & gratitude all have a direct impact on our physical health.”
(3 John 2 “. . . I pray that you may enjoy good health & that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.”)
He ends the preface with, “Cancer is a message to change. And those changes are desirable.”
Chapter 1 – Cancer Conquerors Search
This chapter opens with the reader meeting a man who is diagnosed with cancer. He is frightened & confused. You read the thoughts that go through his head. Of course, he asks, “Why me?” He came back with the typical rationalizations. He wanted to know what this meant for him medically. How could this happen to him? He felt as if he was losing control.
(When I went to my family doctor, in September of 2007, to find out why the lymph node under my left arm was painful & enlarged, she told me one of the possibilities was lymphoma; I was very shocked & frightened.
The very first thing Anderson tells readers, in his book Cancer: 50 Essential Things to Do, is to Stop “Awfulizing.” Reading this section & the questions he says a newly diagnosed cancer patient asks is right on target. He describes how I felt as I went through several tests to determine the cause of the pain & enlargement of the lymph node & considered the possibility of having lymphoma. He states:
“You’ve been told ‘It’s [it might be] cancer.’ I have deep compassion for you. I fully appreciate your feelings. I’ve been there too.
“First, you’re in shock, & filled with fear. The next moment you’re angry but not quite certain at what or whom. Then comes the thoughts of ‘How did this happen? Why me?’ Even the guilt starts to creep in, ‘Did I bring this on myself?’ Plus, all the questions have started to rush through your mind: ‘Will I die?’ ‘How long do I have?’ ‘What will happen to my family?’ [I did research on lymphoma, found out that there were 2 types, & ask God if I had lymphoma, if I could have the one that has a longer life expectancy – thinking about this now, I can’t believe I was trying to make a deal with God] & on & on & on. Your mind is overwhelmed at times.
“Be calm. Try not to panic. I know that this is easier said than done, but be aware that panic will only inhibit rational & positive action.
“Cancer is a serious illness but it is not necessarily fatal. You do have the luxury of some time. Unlike a severed artery, cancer does not require you to do something this very instant. A hurried response, based in the emotions of fear & panic, is neither required nor preferred. In fact, a hurried response may be harmful. Don’t take that as a license for inaction, however.
“Stop & examine your frenzied thoughts for just a moment. It is at the beginning stages of this journey that clear decision-making will be most important. With these early decisions, you will ensure that your illness is properly treated. Panic acts only to your detriment.
“Panic is a mental phenomenon, a response to our thoughts about cancer being frightful & overpowering. The process can accurately be labeled as ‘awfulizing.’ Isn’t that an apt description? When we awfulize, we take our current situation to its worst possible conclusion.
“If we will observe our emotions objectively for just a moment, we will see something different from initial appearances. The intense panic that virtually every cancer patient experiences is actually the mind projecting its fears about the unknown future. Think about it, & understand this truth: Panic is caused by an assumption. It is not based on material fact.”
When I was sent to a surgeon for a biopsy, he told me there was less than a 50/50 chance it was malignant. If you’ve read “My Story” you know that God told me, before I went to meet with the surgeon, to get the results of the biopsy, that the biopsy was malignant, but the cancer is not a death sentence. The initial diagnosis still hit us like a ton of bricks. We had to wait until further testing was completed to determine whether it was breast cancer or lung cancer, since the surgeon told us the pathologist confirmed it definitely was not lymphoma.
God’s reassurance that it’s not a death sentence has been a lifeline to hope & peace. Even in the midst of my “awfulizing,” I turned to God in prayer to quiet my panic & to bring me back to reality. I always know God will give me grace to face whatever challenges are ahead of me. He has ALWAYS been faithful, & I have NO reason to think He will let me down when I need Him most. “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock & my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62:1-2)
His medical team & oncologist were reassuring that his chances were good, but that still did not remove his gnawing sense of fear. He still had many more questions that were unanswered.
He wished he could talk to someone who had been through a similar experience.
He found a long-term survivor, but she looked as if she might die any minute. Even though she had survived for 5 years – the standard “you are cured” time frame – her quality of life was less than desirable. He wasn’t looking for poor life quality.
The man knew that for his sake, as well as for the people around him, he had to find his answers soon.
Then he remembered a co-worker who, several years ago, had lived through cancer. And the interesting thing about his friend’s experience was that the cancer journey seemed to have changed her much for the better. Not only was this woman’s cancer under control but she seemed to be leading a new life, a better life than ever before.
Maybe I should talk to her right away, thought the man. When he called his friend’s home, one of the children said her parents were on a trip & wouldn’t return for another week. Then she certainly must be doing well, decided the man.
He asked the friend’s daughter, “Do you know what doctor your mother saw?”
“No,” she replied, “I don’t know the doctor. But I do know that she spent the most time with the Cancer Conqueror.”
“The Cancer Conqueror?” asked the man.
“Yes,” answered the daughter. “That’s the affectionate name we gave to a woman & a group of her friends who taught my mother & our family about cancer. We learned that people can conquer cancer &, in doing so, may even cure it.”
The man felt a positive, supportive attitude from the girl when she asked, “Do you have cancer?”
“Yes,” said the man. “How can I get in touch with the Cancer Conqueror?”
Search for another survivor, a cancer conqueror. As you read each succeeding chapter summary, you will have a better idea what a cancer conqueror is. First, look for a survivor, & pray that you find, as this man did, a cancer conqueror, as well.
In succeeding chapters, you go on the man’s journeys with the Cancer Conqueror. At the end of each chapter, there is a homework assignment the man is given to complete by the next visit, which I do not include here.
This search may not be as simple as Greg Anderson makes it seem. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was in a state of unbelief for some time, during which, I was not searching for a cancer survivor. Once it actually sunk in that I am a cancer patient, in fact I am a stage IV cancer patient, I wanted to talk to another stage IV cancer patient, but I did not know how to go about finding someone. I knew women who had survived breast cancer, but they did not have stage IV breast cancer. Besides that, I am not an assertive individual who will take the initiative to contact such a person. I will wait for her to contact me, if she thinks she has something she wants to share with me. I know that’s not the position to take, but it’s how my brain works post-brain injury. Previously, I would have been on the phone to such an individual to ask questions. The lesson to me today is to be sensitive to the people I know. God has used this experience to help me understand that if a friend or acquaintance is diagnosed with cancer, I need to take the initiative to make contact with that person, to provide support & encouragement. I want to know what role of the Cancer Conqueror I can play in his or her life. No experience is ever wasted in God’s economy!
If you are the family member, loved one, friend or care-giver of a cancer patient you can be a tremendous blessing & a huge help by assisting in making contacts & providing opportunities for connections between survivors, with a Cancer Conqueror spirit, & the cancer patient you know & love. The cancer patient is often too consumed with all that is going on to be able to focus on this task. Their main focus is being surrounded by love & support from family, friends, & loved ones, as they try to understand their disease & how it will be treated & consider their future. They are looking for hope & peace of mind. As I stated before, both are found in a personal relationship with God. If they know God, we can help them turn to look to him to find hope & peace. If they do not know God, we can introduce them to Him, as their source of hope & peace.
Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with joy & peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion & the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”