Owning Pink Bloggers

To be fully healthy, you must nourish all parts of yourself.

10 Things I Learned From People Who Survive Cancer

Lissa Rankin's picture

cancer survive

When I interviewed women who had survived breast cancer for my art project The Woman Inside, I noticed that they all shared one remarkable thing in common.

They had all faced down death and decided to live every day like it might be their last. And then they all beat cancer. 

The more interviews I did, the more I noticed that these women were living differently than most of the people I knew who had not been diagnosed with cancer. Here’s what I learned from those survivor women. Learning these lessons changed my life, and I hope they’ll change yours.

1.     Be unapologetically YOU.  People who survive cancer get feisty. They walk around bald in shopping malls and roll their eyes if people look at them funny.  They say what they think.  They laugh often. They don’t make excuses. They wear purple muumuus when they want to.

2.     Don’t take shit from people.  People who survive cancer stop trying to please everybody. They give up caring what everybody else thinks. If you might die in a year anyway (and every single one of us could), who gives a flip if your Great Aunt Gertrude is going to cut you out of her will unless you kiss her ass?  

3.     Learn to say no. People with cancer say no when they don’t feel like going to the gala.  They avoid gatherings when they’d prefer to be alone. They don’t let themselves get pressured into doing things they really don’t want to do.

4.     Get angry. Then get over it. People who survive cancer get in your face. They question you. They feel their anger. They refuse to be doormats.  They demand respect. They feel it. Then they forgive. They let go. They surrender. They don’t stay pissed. They release resentment.

5.     Don’t obsess about beauty. People who survive cancer no longer worry about whether they have perfect hair, whether their makeup looks spotless, or whether their boobs are perky enough. They’re happy just to have boobs (if they still do). They’re happy to be alive in their skin, even if it’s wrinkled.

6.     Do it now.  Stop deferring happiness. People who survive cancer realize that you can’t wait until you kick the bucket to do what you’re dying to do. Quit that soul-sucking job now. Leave that deadbeat husband. Prioritize joy. They live like they mean it.

7.     Say “I love you” often.  People who survive cancer leave no words left unspoken. You never know when your time is up. Don’t risk having someone you love not know it.

8.     Take care of your body. People who survive cancer have a whole new appreciation for health. Those who haven’t been there may take it for granted. So stop smoking. Eat healthy. Drink in moderation. Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid putting toxic poisons in your God Pod. Get enough sleep.

9.     Prioritize freedom. People who survive cancer know that being a workaholic isn’t the answer. Money can’t buy health. Security doesn’t matter if you’re six feet under. Sixteen hours a day of being a stress monster is only going to make you sick. As Tim Ferriss writes in The 4-Hour Workweek, “Gold is getting old. The New Rich are those who abandon the deferred-life plan and create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility.”

10.Take risks. People who survive cancer have faced their fear and told it to go to hell. They know life is for living. Fear is powerless. And joy lies in taking risks. So go sky diving if you want. Bungee jump. Hang glide. Spend your savings.  Live like you might die tomorrow.

Are you doing these things? Or are you waiting for cancer to test out how much you want to live?

Don’t wait for cancer, my love. Don’t tempt the Universe that way.

Be brave enough to live NOW.

Unapologetically and fearlessly living for today,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.



Liz Nord's picture

LOVE it!

I absolutely LOVE this article. My sister-in-law is in the midst of breast cancer and it’s been tough. Your words are inspiring, uplifting, and will help both women with and without cancer see through the fog! I would be honored if I could repost your article on my blog (http://secretsofmoms.com/) as a guest post from you with your picture, bio, and link back to your site. Please email me at nelizabethanna@aol.com if you are interested. Thank you! Awesome post.

KC's picture


Oh, I love this article!!! I am a younger person, according to some people, but I so get it. I try to live it. It is funny how when you "get it" other people give you weird looks. Well, take those weird looks and dodge them away. Cancer or no cancer, or you know someone who is going through cancer, take these lessons and fly!!!! And while you're at it, go help someone else!!

Yes, anger should only be used to direct change. If you thrive in anger, that alone can be a killer, and/or make any condition worse.

So, go get'em tiger!!! xo

Seagirl's picture


Hi Lissa:

I totally forgot that you asked me awhile back in another post how I survived cancer! And, I never responded. Well, I will here. I will give you the short version, and if you want more, send me an email. This Sept. 17 will be my 10 year cancer free date! I am so excited. I had breast cancer, which was discovered about 5 months after my mom died from ovarian cancer. My father had also died from cancer when I was the young age of 13. So, needless to say, I was ANGRY!! You are right; when a person has cancer, they are angry. At least, that was my predominant response. I was pissed. I was pissed that cancer had taken both parents, and pissed that I had it then. It was NOT going to get me!! In that state, my anger made me brave, and I chose to only have a lumpectomy, and refused all other standard treatment. I chose to get healthy through the help of my chiropractor and a lot of my own research. I changed my diet, (yes, health becomes so much more important) and attitude, and voila! Here I am. Not only did I survive, but I am thriving. Grateful to be here.

Monica's picture

Oh. Wow. I don't think I've

Oh. Wow. I don't think I've ever had such an overpowering reaction to words as I did to: "Are you doing these things? Or are you waiting for cancer to test out how much you want to live? Don’t wait for cancer, my love. Don’t tempt the Universe that way.
Be brave enough to live NOW."

This year, a very close friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. Happily she is now recovering but her diagnosis was part of what has been pushing me to live my dream of moving to London for 6 months. Lately though I've been wavering, feeling trapped in the fears and worries that surround that decision. Reading what you just wrote was more powerful than I can even describe. A true kick in the backside. And uncanny that you posted it today and I stumbled across your link placed in my favourites probably over a year ago. I never browse through my favourites. Huh. Maybe the universe is trying to tell me something... Thank you for your amazing words.

When you comment on an Owning Pink blog post, we invite you to be authentic and loving, to say what you feel, to hold sacred space so others feel heard, and to refrain from using hurtful or offensive language. Differing opinions are welcomed, but if you cannot express yourself in a respectful, caring manner, your comments will be deleted by the Owning Pink staff.