Cancer With Grace

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.

Grace is one of those qualities that we struggle to define, but recognize when we see it. People with grace always seem to do and say the right thing, and do so with honest kindness. Being graceful is never an act. It comes from the heart.

I sat down with my colleague, Kerry Quinn, to try to define what it means to live through cancer with grace. We identified people who seem to exude grace even in the midst of difficult treatment: Susan, Joy, Willard, Angie, Howard, Sharon, Skip, Carol, Don, Judy, Pat, and others too numerous to name.

What is special about them? These are the common elements:

  • People with grace understand that others also have challenges – some related to cancer, and others related to the full spectrum of life. People with grace always ask how you’re doing, and they truly want to know.
  • People with grace remain engaged in whatever gives them joy – their family, their garden, their pets, their books. Sometimes their health requires that they modify their level of engagement, but they still remain engaged at whatever level possible.
  • People with grace appreciate their health professionals and never fail to thank them. They also understand that those professionals aren’t infallible gods, but humans trying their very best.
  • People with grace direct their frustration and anger against the cancer, not against the people around them.
  • People with grace understand that their families sometimes need a break from cancer, so they seek out additional avenues of support. They turn to the Cancer Resource Center, their faith communities, and other organizations, in part, to give some breathing space to their loved ones.
  • People with grace make every support group better because they honestly care about everyone else in the room.
  • People with grace continue to add beauty and kindness to the world around them.


People with grace are by no means perfect. They get angry, tearful and scared just like everyone else who is struggling with a cancer diagnosis. But they’re somehow able to refocus themselves on the goodness that still exists in their lives. By doing so, they make us all better.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Click here to see all of Bob’s columns

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