Surviving Blood Cancer: Lessons from a TV Show
Last updated: April 2023
Recently I came across a TV series called I Survived. The show is about people who have made it out of harrowing experiences alive. It is not an easy watch; the stories are the stuff nightmares are made of.
But 5 years after being diagnosed with myeloma, I want to learn something from people who beat the odds. I want to know how they found the courage and strength to persevere in life-threatening situations.
My monster, myeloma
When I was newly diagnosed, I felt like I was in a fight for my life with myeloma. I was terrified of the monster who had broken my femur and invaded my bone marrow without a crumb of consent. In a matter of days, I was ripped away from the life I knew and led into a dark and scary jungle of doctors, procedures, and endless treatments. Bound by pain and a wheelchair, I could not run away.
Fortunately, things look different now. I am still in remission on my first line of treatment. But at times living with an ‘incurable’ cancer feels like the boogeyman is always lurking in the bushes, just waiting for a wrong move.
How do I know which moves are the right ones? Why did the people on the show survive their ordeals, and what inner resources got them through?
I survived because…
Each episode of the show ends with a person saying, “I survived because…”
Some said that giving up was not an option. They were determined to take the next necessary step, no matter how painful or frightening, in order to live. Others stated they felt lucky or that it just wasn’t their time. But many said they had something they needed to live for – mainly family and friends – and a future they were excited to meet.
They all said how important it was to remain calm and ‘keep their heads’ in dangerous and scary situations. And almost everyone mentioned an inner voice, God, or a deceased family member that was guiding them along.
One young woman who had been seriously injured after a fall survived two freezing cold nights in a canyon doing exercises to stay warm and awake. When asked what kept her going, she replied, “I wanted to have another day. It didn’t matter if it was gonna be good or bad. I just knew I wanted more life.” 1
And, like most stories, she also relied on the help of others. Her dog ran 5 miles out of the canyon for help and led rescuers back just in time to save her life.
Surviving blood cancer
I no longer watch the show because of the nightmares it caused. But I took away some valuable lessons from the survivors that apply to living with blood cancer.
So many of them talked about staying calm and following their inner guidance. This is not always easy amidst side effects, scans, and monthly blood tests. But we all can tap into our inner wisdom by spending time in stillness through calming activities, prayer, or meditation.
Also, each of them had something to live for, and they focused on that love instead of all the bad that was happening during their ordeals. I want to survive because I love life, not because I fear death. I also want to draw on the strength of others more, especially when I am running low on my own.
What survival means to us
Everyone on the show experienced a traumatic event that changed the trajectory of their lives. Many of us can relate to that feeling when we were diagnosed with blood cancer. That’s when we were labeled 'survivors'. But we get to choose what survival means to us and how it can change us for the better.
Many of the people on the show were able to forgive what happened to them and the events or people who caused them harm, even while it was happening. Some now use their experiences to help others who have experienced trauma by becoming police officers, lawyers, and counselors. They all came away with a new appreciation for life and a second chance they may never have had otherwise.
I have always looked at my blood cancer diagnosis as a second chance at life. And I realize that none of us are going to live forever. But the I Survived stories remind me just how blessed I am to have another day, no matter if it’s good or bad. And by sharing our own stories, we can help someone else find the strength to survive too.
How do you feel about your support system?