Are You Thriving Or Surviving?

 The one thing about cancer is that we are all unique in the way we are affected by it, not just physically but emotionally too. Most of us will have a personal connection in some way, and have opinions about what is the best way to deal with things. We all seem to have words we love or hate to describe things, some use the fighting analogies, and others hate that. I use the word journey to describe my experiences, many people don’t like that one! Survivor is a word I use carefully where cancer is concerned, and we all have very different understandings of it. Personally I consider I am surviving cancer currently, but don’t class myself as a survivor. Some may reach the 5 year or 10 year anniversary of their diagnosis and consider they are a survivor. As with all things cancer it is ‘different strokes for different folks!’

In 2007 surviving my disease became my only focus, but as I continued to survive it I considered I started to thrive in my life, (although within the confines of very complex health requirements.) The positive stuff was outweighing the negatives, which was important to me. Fortunately that continues to be the case even as life gets a little tougher currently. Communicating with so many people across the world, I have learned that we all have our own perceptions of living with cancer. This is why I consider it to be so important to share experiences so we can all learn from each other.

Recently I was contacted by a lady in Canada who wanted to share the story below. This is how Gayle dealt with her issues, and I’m delighted to be able to feature it here today.

“In 2006 Gayle (BC, Canada) knew that something was wrong with her body, in particular her breast. She went to see her doctor, had many tests and was told that she was fine. Luckily she followed her instincts and pushed to figure out what was wrong. Then as she turned 40 she found out that life didn’t necessarily begin, but could possibly be coming to an end. Sure enough, Gayle had breast cancer.thrive-or-survive Not only that, she had Inflammatory Breast Cancer, a type of breast cancer about which not a lot was known at that time and the rate of survival wasn’t good. Gayle’s fight was a long one of chemo, radiation, herceptin and eventually surgery. She faced it all with courage and as much dignity as you can possibly have while going through cancer treatments. Most of all she faced it with humour and positivity. As her friend I was blown away by her bravery.

 The hardest thing for Gayle to accept was the news that she would have to wait 10 years to know for sure if she was a survivor. The injustice of this label “Survivor” hit her very hard. What if she didn’t make it 10 years? What of those who fought with everything that they had and yet didn’t manage to beat their disease? Were they losers? Surely not! And then one moment changed it all when she realized that she was doing something so much more important than merely surviving, she was THRIVING!!!!

 Thriving is the choice not to let cancer or any illness be the defining thing in your life. A spark was lit in us. I knew that I had to show the world the Thriving spirit of my friend and we began writing and filming our documentary “Thrive the Movie”. Gayle began writing her book. We brought the Thriving philosophy to the World Conference on Breast Cancer in 2008 and the reception it received blew us away even more. The message that “While you are waiting to survive you can choose to Thrive” was like a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day. It was a mantra that all of these women from vastly different backgrounds and different countries around the globe could all stand united behind whether they were at the beginning, middle or end of their cancer journey. These women took this positive thriving message away with them to their home towns and countries.

 Alas the global financial crisis hit and our documentary was put on hold, Gayle’s book was also put on hold and life moved on.In 2013 we realized that the Thrive message was far too important not to share with the world and we found a way to make our documentary happen. We found Thrivers to introduce to Gayle in the hopes that we could rekindle the spark that shone out of her all those years ago. We flew her half way around the world to meet them and boy did they nurture her already Thriving spirit.

 We finished filming and in April sent our beloved work, filled with our blood, sweat and tears off to the Toronto International Film Festival where it is currently under consideration. The new Thrivers Gayle met on her journey have inspired her so much that she is finishing her book, something that she hopes will light a Thriving spark in others. We have launched a kickstarter campaign to help us to complete and publish her book. It still amazes me that when you go looking for inspirational, giving and caring people, that you can find them everywhere. You just have to have your eyes open and be on the lookout. We hope that our movie “Thrive” will inspire you just as much as the Thrivers we met have inspired us. (stayed tuned for our soon to be released trailer). (”

Thank you Roisin and Gayle for the inspiring story you share with us, and I wish you well with this incredible project!

Do you consider you are surviving or thriving, maybe both? Do you have words you use and words you don’t to describe your cancer experience? As always it would be great to hear your views and experiences below.


  1. Another great post Chris. I am whatever I feel like on the day but I make sure each day counts!. Personally I try not to put myself into any category, to be defined by certain criteria, enough people do that already on my behalf!. I am just living and loving my life, much as most people are, it’s just very different, but I love it all the same and its a very happy life

    • Thx Susan, and I couldn’t agree with you more. It is also why I enjoy sharing work from others, because we all have different ways of dealing with it. I think you are also correct when you say it is probably more about how others try and categorise, more than how we do ourselves. My view is that we just deal with cancer the best way we can, and do what works for us. I’m certainly yet to find a rule book! 🙂 Have a fab day x

  2. Most definitely Chris, I have enjoyed reading your posts, it is always interesting to read other peoples thoughts. There is definitely no rule book, although sometimes people think there is and when you dont fit into how you “ought to be” it doeant sit well. But that could be said of every experience we go through in life I guess. I do think people mean well but society as a whole often puts people into categories and it seems you are either in or you are out!. So I remain me, uncategorised as much as society will allow!. I was once very bluntly told that I would never be deemed as a “survivor” because I am non curable. Did it bother me?. It annoyed me!. We can be whatever we want to be, its up to us. I know doctors do especially categorise, but I try and remember thats how systems operate these days, its not personal as such. I remember being in hospital when I was youger and we had those namelets (the ones which actually referred to you as a person), which was lovely, then a while ago when I was having an op I sat looking at my lovely barcode on my wrist and thought, thats what we become, a human barcode in a medical system, scanned in, swiped through and so on. Categorised!. One of my least favourite thing!. Anyway sorry to hijack your post, promise not to ramble on your next one. My best wishes to your friends doing things their way on this blog. And to you, have a fab day too and thank you.

  3. You certainly haven’t hijacked my post Susan! This is why I write, to stimulate discussion and see what other people make of their cancer experience. We have many similarities actually, and I have always been a maverick and stayed outside most systems. Ironically it was my illness that brought me back to the category thing, and I became a disease file at the hospital! But I have done my best to retain my own personality, and I think as you say it is others that may categorise us. My cancer experience has empowered me to do things my way now. I love your bar code analogy btw! So pleased you enjoy the posts and glad you feel able to share your views and exps which are so valuable to us all. Hope you have a fab week x

  4. I am new to your blog, and look forward to more uplifting and sensible thoughts on dealing with my cancers. For 13 years, I, too, have been dealing with cancers, and am currently in a slump, being totally fedup with all of it. However, I have allowed myself this pity pot, and am climbing out yet again to do and be all I can. I am still the go to person for women dealing with ovarian cancer, and am able to give them a positive outlook, when sometimes I am “faking it til I make it”. I made it today, and that’s all that counts….

  5. Hi Pat, firstly welcome to the Community, where we can all try and make sense of things together! I totally get where you are coming from, but by the sound of things you are also making a difference for others. It certainly can be tough going at times, and I too have a ‘pity pot’ that very few people see. But I feel that is a natural thing, and nothing to be ashamed of.
    You have made it today, and that’s what’s important. With or without cancer, life can certainly be complex at times, and of course our views on what is important are now different. None of us can be positive all the time, so be kind to yourself. As I have said previously in blogs cancer doesn’t come with a set of rules, we make it up as we go along.
    Thank you for sharing your feelings so candidly which will help others experiencing life similarly. I look forward to welcoming you back soon, Chris

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