SurvivorNet believes in bringing attention to all those affected by cancer every day – it’s what we do. But it’s also nice to have National Cancer Survivors Day: A “celebration of life” held on the first Sunday of every June.
The hope for National Cancer Survivors Day is that “people around the world will unite to recognize cancer survivors, raise awareness of the ongoing challenges cancer survivors face and – most importantly – celebrate life.”Read More
Marecya Burton was a 20-year-old cheerleader at Bowie State University when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Being an athlete, it was easy to write off the subtle symptoms of ovarian cancer – which can include fatigue, reduced appetite and pain – as the normal byproducts of athletic activity.
“I was contributing everything to being an athlete,” she says. “Oh, my back hurts because I flipped down the field two days in a row.”
Instead of graduating from college with her friends, Burton had to move back home and start treatment. She also planned to go to law school after graduation — plans that she had to give up.
“I really had to, in a sense, put my life on hold,” she says. “Sometimes I look at where I am, and I can’t help but wonder, would I be further had I not had my diagnosis?”
But instead of pursuing law, Burton became a high school teacher. She now teaches social studies in Baltimore, Maryland, and she’s made peace with her new direction. “I wouldn’t change my career for the world,” she says. “It’s so fulfilling.”
Distance swimmer and cancer survivor Dean Hall spends a lot of time in the water, so he knows the importance of going with the flow. In 2007, he developed chronic leukemia and took a year to recover. Soon after, Dean’s wife developed brain cancer and died 15 days before their 30th wedding anniversary.
“The grief rocked my world,” Hall says. Shortly after, he received his second cancer diagnosis – lymphoma.
“I struggled to find some kind of purpose that I could feel passionate about,” he remembers. Against his doctor’s wishes, he starting swimming and “very soon” he says his blood work numbers were “going in the right direction.” That’s when he heard that the longest river in the state of Oregon – the Willamette at 187 miles — had never been swum.
He became the first person in history — even as an active cancer patient — to swim the river. Hall says his first blood test after that swim showed the cancer was gone.
“The best way to fight cancer was not to fight at all,” Hall says. “The way to heal was to live so fully and love so completely that I squeezed the most out of every day.
“When I found the courage to love my life wounded, weary, ‘warts and all’ is when I started to win, heal, recover and celebrate the life I have now!”
Lauren Mae’s cancer diagnosis came just when her adult life was poised for launch. “August 23, 2019, that’s a day I will never forget,” she says. “That’s the day my life flipped upside down.”
A recent high school grad, she was spending her “super busy” summer volunteering at church and foster camps, and preparing to start college. It was then that she developed a “very weird and dry random cough that lingered for a few months and just would not go away.”
When she noticed a lump under her armpit while doing her hair, she told her parents and together they sought medical attention. “In the ER, I got an X-ray and a CT scan and both of those confirmed there was a mass in my chest,” she says. “A few moments later, the oncologist was sitting at the foot of my hospital bed and telling my family and I that I had cancer.” The diagnosis was primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma, a rare form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
So instead of prepping for college, she was facing down a medical battle — but it was one that she was well prepared to fight, given her innate positivity, her faith, and a deeply committed support team of friends and family. She ultimately won, and even said she’s learned from it. “It has definitely changed my perspective and my appreciation for life and I’m forever grateful for that,” she says.
Growing up in a violence-ridden neighborhood might not seem like a blessing, but the struggles of his early years instilled in Alex Echols the resilience he would need to face an even bigger challenge many years later: cancer.
“I remember the doctor called me and my father back into the room and said, ‘You have late-stage lymphoma.’ That’s when I realized, ok, I need to take this seriously,” Echols tells SurvivorNet.
Escaping his difficult surroundings also left Echols with a profound sense of gratitude, which helped him get through the darkest days of his cancer. “Even during some of the most challenging days and nights, when I didn’t have any energy, I looked for things to be grateful for,” he says. “I’ve always felt like I’ve been an optimist my entire life, and I’ve always seen things as the glass half full.”
He not only survived his cancer, but thrived. Today, Echols is an emotional intelligence leadership-based trainer, and the bestselling co-author of The Two-Week Notice: How to Discover Your Passion, Quit Your Job + Impact Our World. “Honestly, I’ve just gotten back into such a rich and beautiful life for myself,” he says.
Sometimes it takes a major crisis to make you realize that you’ve been headed down the wrong path in life. In 2017, Jay Klay was diagnosed with stage II melanoma in three different areas of his body. The news jolted his entire existence.
“I was told that there was an 85% chance that my family and I would most likely have to start the preparations for my passing,” he tells SurvivorNet. “It was as if all the life, all the air, all the joy had been completely sucked out of my body.”
It was only after Klay’s doctors had completely removed his cancer and given him a clean bill of health that he had what he calls his “light switch moment.” He realized that, had he succumbed to his cancer, his life wouldn’t have ended on a happy note. “I had not been following my dreams. I had been letting fear keep me from what I ultimately wanted out of my life,” he recalls.
What Klay ultimately wanted was to be an actor and model. The revelation was life altering. “I was given a second chance at life. And at that moment I knew I would not take that for granted,” he says. “I could no longer let fear, self-doubt, or the unknown stop me from what I was meant to do on this earth.”
Since then, Klay has been signed to top talent and modeling agencies in both Los Angeles and the East Coast. He’s starred in countless music videos and commercials. In some ways, he considers his diagnosis a blessing. “If it wasn’t for cancer, I would have never achieved such greatness,” he says.
Eight-year-old Lilly Bumpus not only beat cancer, but she also has beaten the Girl Scout cookie sales record for most boxes sold in a single season.
Lilly was born with Ewing sarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer that is often found in children and young adults. Lilly went through intense rounds of chemotherapy and had some of her bones removed from her chest wall. The treatments were successful. Lilly has spent seven years in remission.
Although one might believe that the pandemic would cause complications in the selling of Girl Scout Cookies, Lilly sold more than 32,000 boxes of cookies this year.
Her mom, Trish, explains: “My favorite thing about Lilly is that she never gives up. So, Lillybug got to 10,000 boxes one week into Girl Scout cookie season. Never, ever has that happened. So we went from there. I then approached Girl Scouts and said, ‘What happens now if she sells 20,000 boxes?’ And they said, ‘20,000 boxes, yeah, okay.’ So we said, ‘Game on.’ So then we sold on and sold on, and she got into 20,000 boxes.”
Adds Lilly: “And then we went to 32,000”
“It’s up to us what we make out of every day and every moment that we are given, and we choose to put one foot forward every day and we choose to look on the bright side of life,” Trish says.
Contributing: Alessandra Dubin, Alison Maxwell, Abigail Seaberg, Marisa Sullivan, Stephanie Watson