Living Well with Advanced Cancer

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.

Many of the people I talk with on a regular basis have advanced cancers. They don’t expect to be cured, but they do enjoy a surprisingly good quality of life. And when they gather together, they are more likely to share laughter than to share tears.

How is this possible?

While everyone handles advanced cancer in his or her own way, those who do best emotionally (and often physically) seem to share certain traits.

First, they are pro-active about pain control because uncontrolled pain overtakes every aspect of one’s life.

Second, they continue on with their lives. That is, they maintain those activities that give them pleasure and meaning. Perhaps the illness causes them to reduce their level of activity, but they find ways to stay connected and involved.

Third, they don’t try to control what they cannot control. One of my favorite expressions is, “It is what it is.” This is nowhere more true than with advanced cancer. There’s no pretense that everything is rosy. But there can be pleasure in each day and people with serious illness often find delight in the daily pleasures that most of us take for granted.

Finally, they have faith, but that faith can take many different forms. Many have religious faith. Some have faith in the recurrent cycles of nature. Others have faith in their doctors. Whatever form faith takes, it provides the opportunity to relax. Someone or something is looking out for you and everything will be OK.

Living with advanced cancer requires an understanding of reality while maintaining hope for continued well-being. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.


Reprinted with permission the Ithaca Journal.

Click here to see all of Bob’s columns

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