Cancer And Hope

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

Cancer and hope are two topics that often intersect.

People with cancer sometimes wonder if maintaining hope in the face of a grim diagnosis is a good idea or a bad idea.

My response is that hope is always good, but it’s a mistake to define hope strictly in the context of being cured.

When a person is first diagnosed with cancer, hope and cure do overlap. People hope that they will be cured. Even if the survival rate cancer is only ten percent, somebody has to be in that ten percent and it might as well be you.

Or it might be said, “People with your cancer can expect to live about twelve months.” What that means is that half of the people with your cancer will live longer than 12 months.

Statistics provide guideposts, but they don’t dictate what will happen to a specific individual.

Of course, cancer can metastasize or otherwise advance to the point that a cure is unrealistic.

But does this mean giving up hope? No, not at all. But it does mean reframing your concept of hope to something other than a cure.

Many people who can’t be cured can hope for months or years of continuing to live with a good quality of life.

Even people with a terminal diagnosis can and should have hope. The hope may be as modest as having a good weekend or as significant as a reconciliation with an estranged family member.

Hope is somehow at the core of our being human, even when one’s current situation is difficult. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”

And there is the hope that our lives have had and will continue to have meaning.

Hope is always present.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal. Original Publication Date: February 5, 2011

Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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