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No one asks to face cancer.

But when you do, it introduces you to a new community. Our goal is to make that bond stronger by sharing stories from those who have lived through it and who can offer you support every day.

Our partners

Real letters. Real people.

Patients and caregivers wrote letters to themselves to share advice about what they wish they’d known at the start of their cancer journey.

Anthem Video

Lorraine

Ken

JB

Julia

Karen

Kristi

Jim S

Dylan

Find ways to live in the moment.

Lorraine: Mother, caregiver

Jim

Trena

How are you going to tell them you have cancer?

Jim Kelly: Pro football Hall-of-Famer, head & neck cancer survivor

Patrick

Stay focused and become your own advocate.

Trena: Melanoma survivor

Dear Name,

Patients and caregivers share moving advice about what they wish they'd known at the start of their cancer journey.

Just do your best—whatever that means in the moment.

Dear Anthem Video,

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Lorraine: Mother, caregiver

Find ways to live in the moment.

Dear Lorraine,

Silas has been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer; your world just turned upside down, leaving you crawling out of your skin and completely terrified. Lung cancer at 29; how does that happen? As Sy’s mom, you know there is an unwritten rule that you are the one who is supposed to make things better, and yet this is something that you cannot fix. You cannot take cancer from him—as much as you want to with every fiber of your being.

As you move through this new reality, try to remember a few things. At 29, Silas is an extremely independent young adult whose life changed the minute he was diagnosed. He went from a young man—returning to college, dating, socializing with friends, working and being very excited about his future—to a man fraught with anxiety, pain, fear and uncertainty.

As an adult he will want control over his medical decisions, and it is your job to support him.

Despite what others may say about caring for yourself, recognize that for you, taking care of your son is one of the highest forms of self-care that you can give yourself, because you want to spend as much time as possible with him.

Seize each moment he feels up for doing something outside of the house; do not put those things off as he may not feel well enough to do them again.

Remember, you will find the strength you need by watching your son continue to embrace life as well as by watching your daughters step up to provide care and comfort to their brother. Find ways to live in the moment with all of them; to love one another fiercely, to laugh and cry together and to hold each other up through it all.

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Ken: Husband, caregiver

Caring for someone in inconsolable pain will reveal a lot about the kind of person you are.

Dear Ken,

In the beginning, Sheila’s lung cancer will seem like a nightmare you can’t escape. You’ll be in denial that this could possibly be happening…to her, or to you. And you’ll feel the guilt; how can you even be thinking of yourself, when Sheila is carrying the heavier burden?

There will be the sting of helplessness that, because of finances, work, or other obligations, you can’t just jet around the country seeking the best and brightest to treat your loved one. You’ll be haunted by the thought that perhaps, because of your ineptitude, Sheila perished.

Caring for someone in inconsolable pain will reveal a lot about the kind of person you are. And even if you started out as Caregiver of the Year, the sustained stress and overwhelming sadness of the situation will eventually get to you, physically and mentally.

Carve out time for self-care. Walk the beach, read a book, or go for a hike.

Finally, contrary to the supposed wisdom of those who haven’t gone through this nightmare, you won’t get over losing Sheila.

Go to grief counseling and work to help others. But know, ultimately, you’ll struggle to accept a lot of what has transpired.

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JB: Mother, melanoma survivor

You are entering a world that once only seemed to exist in other people’s stories.

Dear JB,

You are 31 years old and diagnosed with a rare form of melanoma.

You are entering a world that once only seemed to exist in other people’s stories. Suddenly, you are facing decisions about your body and your future that no one should have to make.

Despite the risks you are willing to take to survive—you worry about not being able to see your infant son go to kindergarten. This will be your greatest pain.

Like all new moms, you have heard many things about the first years of a child’s life. They’re often called the “hardest and most rewarding” years—the ones you’re supposed to “enjoy every minute of” because “it goes too fast”—and you will worry that you’ll never see the other side of them.

There’s so much you’ll want to discover with him: a sense of adventure, how to catch autumn leaves falling through the sunroof of your car, or what he thinks about French impressionism.

Beyond these losses, you are more afraid that he won’t even remember you.

So, you’ll find yourself striving to squeeze 18 years of life lessons into months. You’ll also learn that what he needs most from you is just…to love him as he is—today.

That is all he needs from you right now.

And he WILL remember that.

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Julia: Head & neck cancer survivor

Cancer is something your body is experiencing. Cancer is not you.

Dear Julia,

Upon hearing you have cancer, you’ll rush through a stream of thoughts: I should have seen the Great Wall of China, adopted a rescue dog, hugged more, laughed more, lived with more passion! I’m not ready to stop living!

You and your friends decide to drive to a place you all love—a nearby botanical garden. The majesty of nature feels soothing; a sort of buffer against the horror. The plants and trees emanate life. Go ahead and let their energy embrace you.

That afternoon in the garden will be your first step in separating yourself from cancer. One of your friends is right when she sums it up: “Honey, cancer is something your body is experiencing. Cancer isn’t you.”

Make huge commitments to yourself. Like when your childhood friend, who calls herself the “Jedi of Calm,” offers to give you daily breathing sessions, take her up on it.

You love to read, so get carried away in well-written novels. It will feel like a vacation for your emotions.

Just do your best—whatever that means at the moment. In the long run, that’s how you will experience peace and wholeness.

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Karen: Wife, bladder cancer survivor, caregiver

None of this will be easy for you, but know that there is help out there.

Dear Karen,

You must’ve been in denial. Why else would you have gone to the appointment alone? Alone when you heard the words “bladder cancer.” Alone on the drive home when your whole life flashed in front of you and it felt like you were continually stabbed by thoughts of dying. Alone when you told your husband. Except you will barely be able to recount what the doctor said.

You’ll need to learn as much as you can about your disease. But don’t make yourself nuts with some of the crazy advice that’s out there on the internet. Don’t stop asking questions until you completely understand the answer.

You’ll continue to feel alone. Your husband will be there—your rock—but he won’t really understand. He won’t be able to relate to you being the only woman sitting in a waiting room filled with old men. You’ll need to find a support group for that—and you will. Through it you’ll meet other women with bladder cancer, share experiences, ideas, and ways to cope. The comfort you will get will be a relief.

And then one day, complete shock and disbelief. After two years, you’ll become the caregiver as your husband is diagnosed with bladder cancer. You’ll both realize this new journey is paved by what you learned and experienced. That site where you found your support group has expanded and your husband will find invaluable support and friendship of his own. Readily accept the help that neighbors and friends offer. Jot down a list of tasks that would make life easier for you. When folks offer, say “yes.”

None of this will be easy for you, but know that there is help out there. You are not alone! You can do this! I’m sure of it.

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Kristi: Wife, caregiver, patient ambassador

You’re not a caregiver—you’re simply doing what anyone else in your shoes would do.

Dear Kristi,

Smack dab in the prime of your life, your husband is diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

Suddenly your world is filled with labels. You are a “caregiver.” The process is a “cancer journey.” Your husband is a “cancer survivor.” All but the first does not sit well with you. You’re not a caregiver—you’re simply doing what anyone else in your shoes would do. The hardest part will be sitting on the sidelines watching your husband get poked, prodded, and gradually slip into a shell of survival mode. It feels less like a journey, and more like a hellacious tour of duty.

The road you travel together won’t be easy, and at times will be overwhelming. Do things that will make you uncomfortable, like ASKING for help. Lots of people will offer help, but few will have the “just do it” attitude.

Look for moments of laughter, like comparing your doctor visits to one of your favorite TV shows.

Write little notes of encouragement to help your husband get across the finish line. A bell that no one ever notices will take on immense importance to you. Ringing it will sound like you’ve both reached the points you’ve prayed for. A moment comprised of seconds that you’ve waited months to ring. And then you’ll learn that as emotionally trying as this battle can be, healing is no walk in the park either.

But, you’ll both get through it. Sure, you’ll have a few scars, but you’ll both come through victorious and with a new sense of purpose: to become a patient ambassador.

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Jim: Husband, bladder cancer survivor

Lean on your faith, pack your patience, and take your sense of humor.

Dear Jim S,

Well look at what you’ve gone and done to yourself. The room just went silent as the doctor said you have bladder cancer. You’ve done a lot of dumb and crazy things in your life, but avoiding regular checkups was the dumbest. You’re looking at the shocked expressions on your family’s faces. A million questions are running through your mind. Then you’ll collect yourself and ask what’s next.

Your wife will become the educator, always doing research on the next steps. Your biggest challenge will be convincing family and friends not to tell your mother that you have cancer. Being 91-years-old with health challenges of her own, she does not need to be worried. You and your mother survived your tour of duty in Vietnam, and you’ll survive this bout with cancer.

Lean on your FAITH, pack your PATIENCE and take your sense of HUMOR. You’ll quiet a church group by telling them that you felt so blessed to have gotten cancer. God chose you, so that you would have a testimony to help someone else. These opportunities to speak before doctors, patients, caregivers, researchers and first responders will lead to a bigger one. You’ll go to Capitol Hill and work as a congressional reviewer… not bad for a bowlegged fella from a small town in West Virginia.

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Dylan: Melanoma survivor

Belief will become the most important word in the English language.

Dear Dylan,

The greatest adversity you’ve faced recently was finding your team down by a few runs late in a game.

That game just changed.
You were diagnosed with melanoma. Everything that once mattered to you…your image…the constant people pleasing…working a 9-5 to get ahead, now carries no weight.

While your friends are focused on that next promotion, engagement, baby and house, your sole focus will be finishing a meal and making it to tomorrow.

Your circle will shrink. Yet the bonds that remain will become stronger than ever. Nothing is stronger than a band of brothers. There will be no more bickering or fighting; we’ve been attacked and are now united as one.

Energy will be your language.

Not only will you get in tune with your own body, but you’ll sense the energy others bring. Lukewarm and indifference will become the enemy. Burning the boats will be required. Positive energy only.

Belief will become the most important word in the English language.

Less than 15% chance will soon mean possibility.

You’ll have to convince your biggest supporters, that you’re not going down—PERIOD.

You won’t always know the how.
Show up anyway.
You won’t always know the why.
Show up anyway.
It won’t always be pretty.
Show up anyway.
This road won’t be easy, but it will be the greatest gift you’ll ever receive.

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Jim: Pro football Hall-of-Famer, head & neck cancer survivor

How are you going to tell them you have cancer?

Dear Jim,

Today, you begin a long battle with cancer. You will beat it—but it will return not once, but twice. You will doubt your ability to stay tough. It will not be easy, and it will not be fun, but you will get through it.

On the way home from the appointment you will pull over on the side of the road and cry. The tears that Kelly men are not supposed to shed. These tears will not be for you, they will be for your beautiful wife and girls. They have already gone through so much with the loss of their son and their brother Hunter. You will wonder how are you going to tell them that you have cancer.

When you are down or feel like you can’t keep fighting, rely on the “Four F’s:” Faith: Believe in the power of prayer. Know that Hunter is with you in spirit. You have an angel watching over you.

Family: In your darkest moments, your family will be your light. Jill will be your head coach. She, Erin, and Camryn will journal everything that happens and keep track of your progress along the way. Danny will oversee logistics for everyone. LET THEM HELP.

Friends: People want to help you, but you may have to tell them how. Take it day-by-day.

Fans: Your Buffalo Bills family will be there for you, from start to finish—and that will bring a positive energy that helps you fight.

So, keep going because you have amazing people around you who need you. Keep going because others can learn from your struggles. Keep going because you are Kelly Tough.

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Trena: Melanoma survivor

Stay focused and become your own advocate.

Dear Trena,

You are going to be fine! You have allowed yourself to scream, to cry, to get angry, to accept, and to question. Now it’s time to continue living. For 68 years, you survived all the unexpected bumps in your road of life—and this bump is no different.

When you first heard the “C” word, you didn’t absorb much of what the doctor said after that, but even in your daze you asked for a notepad. You were able to look back on your notes later and ask questions. Continue that habit.

You are a single woman living alone, but you are not alone. Your brother and his family rally around you, and your new boyfriend will stay to comfort you. Your visits to the pharmacy increase, and soon almost every clerk in the store knows you by name.

Stay focused and become your own advocate. Raise awareness by speaking freely about your experience. You will discover people are interested in better understanding cancer. Shed yourself of negativity and complaints, even if it means letting go of people that were close friends. Go on with your life—working, going to the gym, volunteering, having lunch with friends, getting that mani-pedi.

Trena, you are confident in your ability to come out of this in the most positive way, and that attitude will guide you to the best outcome.

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Patrick: Melanoma survivor, patient advocate

You need to connect with others in the same situation as you.

Dear Patrick,

Even though you come from a large family of medicine, you’re blindsided. They said cancer.

You need to fully accept the diagnosis to stay clear-headed. Think of all the things you take for granted: raking leaves, your job as a librarian, a crappy round of golf. You’re no professional, but playing the drums, piano, and guitar is what fuels your spirit.

Learn as much as you can in order to participate with your care team. Rely on reputable and up-to-date sources, and definitely avoid “Dr. Google.”

Discover that the most important element in your emotional and psychological well-being is human connection. You need to connect with others in the same situation as you. They’ll be your teachers in how to live with this new reality. You will realize the most important principle they teach you is hope.

I know this is all a lot to take in. But, one day in the future you’ll have a smile on your face.

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Covid-19 & Cancer

It seems like almost overnight the world changed. The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted everything in our daily lives: how we work, how we connect with family and friends, and even our approach to medical care. To help you navigate this new reality, we’ve put together some information for you and your loved ones. Our intention is always to help keep you as informed and healthy as possible.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is brand new, meaning that anyone who is exposed is at risk of becoming infected. More information about factors that may increase your risk of serious illness can be found on the National Cancer Institute (NCI) website. It’s a good idea to discuss any concerns you may have about COVID-19 with your healthcare team.

There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. This means that the best way to stay safe is to follow US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) social distancing and personal hygiene guidelines. The CDC’s guidelines for people who are immunocompromised can be found on their website.

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), there are many factors to consider when making an important decision such as postponing cancer treatment in order to avoid a potential infection. Patients should talk with their treating healthcare team about the risks of postponing treatment versus the potential benefit of decreasing their infection risk.

Coping with a cancer diagnosis, or being a caregiver to someone with cancer, in the wake of the coronavirus can add an additional layer of fear and uncertainty and bring up a wide range of feelings you’re not used to dealing with. Below are some helpful tips on managing your concerns, from our partners at CancerCare:

  • Take Time for Yourself. Practice self-care and prioritize sleep, as this can lessen symptoms of anxiety, as can getting regular exercise (within the guidelines set by your treating healthcare team), and eating a balanced and nutritious diet. You can also try effective grounding strategies such as meditation, deep breathing, and visualization, all proven techniques to help relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Reach Out to Friends and Family. Reaching out to loved ones is more important than ever during this time of social distancing. Regular contact with friends and family contributes to a vital sense of normalcy and comfort when so much is uncertain. Phone calls, email, social media, and video chat apps help maintain bonds with loved ones. Existing social networks can be further strengthened by joining a support group or engaging in counseling. Many hospital and treatment facilities provide support services, as do nonprofit organizations. Additional ideas can be found on CancerCare's website.
  • Speak With Your Treating Healthcare Team. Learn as much as possible about the precautions your healthcare team is taking. Hospitals and treatment centers have disseminated basic information to patients and families about changes they have made in their policies to reduce transmission risks and protect the health and safety of staff, patients, and others. Take time to review this content and ensure you understand it fully. You should become familiar with any new telemedicine practices your healthcare team has adopted. Ask questions of your healthcare team so that you understand these changes in engagement and know what to do should any new medical symptoms arise.
  • Stay Informed and Seek Trusted Sources. It can be tempting to look up symptoms online or become absorbed in the details from the latest news cycle. While staying informed is certainly important, try to focus on reliable sources of medical information such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO). These sites provide important developments about the coronavirus. While it’s important to stay informed about the coronavirus, don’t forget to make time to focus on the things that bring joy and meaning.

Learn more about feelings you may have and ways to cope with them.

EMOTIONAL HEALTH

Read the latest CDC protection guidelines.

Learn more about how to cope with increased stress around navigating cancer care and post-care.

Help others by sharing what’s helping you

More help from our partners
More help from our partners

CancerCare

Emotional support for everyday needs and a helping hand from organizations.

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Head and Neck Cancer Alliance

Articles, podcasts, and inspiring stories from those impacted by head and neck cancer.

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Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer

Helpful information, articles, and local chapters to join.

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Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network

Stories and support tools from those impacted by bladder cancer.

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Go2 Foundation for Lung Cancer

Peer-to-peer support, resources, and tools for coping with a lung cancer diagnosis.

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LUNGevity

Up-to-date information for people with lung cancer and caregivers.

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Lung Cancer Research Foundation

Support, community chats, and educational workshops.

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Lung Cancer Foundation of America

Podcasts, videos, and other lung cancer stories and support.

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AIM at Melanoma

Support from experts and others impacted by melanoma.

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Melanoma Research Foundation

Educational information and advocacy opportunities.

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Melanoma International Foundation

Resources and stories for those impacted by melanoma.

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Melanoma Research Alliance

Tips and resources for those impacted by melanoma.

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Savor Health

The latest scientific information and healthy eating tips by cancer type.

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National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship

Resources and support for cancer survivors.

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National Kidney Foundation

Inspirational stories from people impacted by kidney cancer and other resources.

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Kidney Cancer Association

Helpful tools, information, and resources.

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Living Beyond Breast Cancer

Tailored content for every stage of the breast cancer journey.

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Susan G. Komen

The latest info on living with breast cancer.

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Breastcancer.org

Up-to-date info about breast cancer, a podcast series, and community voices.

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