What it Means to Live after Surviving Cancer

For some reason people expect to hear that cancer is that pivotal moment in your life when you become the ultimate woman or man. All of a sudden you’re supposed to see the world in rainbow colors. It’s your new life mission to savour and squish every juice-able moment out of life.

I wish I could have told everyone what they wanted to hear, that I had been baptized in a ray of sunshine when an angel sat with me during chemo and taught me how to live every day as if it was my last.

The questions were so frequent. I felt bad for not telling them what they wanted to hear. Cancer had not taught me how to live. In fact, it had taught me that I might die.

Somewhere along the way I had adopted the attitude that I was going to die young. Maybe it was after my first surgery, or perhaps it was after my fourth surgery when I began creating my story. Perhaps I assembled it when I was sitting in the chemo ward. I’m really not sure. All I knew was that cancer was serious business and it wanted to destroy me. Having cancer twice in less than five years gave my story an ending – I would not live to see forty.

I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself. In fact, my spirit was completely in tact. I was young and happy. I wasn’t afraid to die. It was just a fact of my life.  I was going to die young. My story was engrained in my head and I believed it whole-heartedly.

Without realizing what I was doing, I was slowly debilitating myself. I was scared to enter new relationships because I didn’t feel that it was fair to put a partner through everything that came with me. How was it fair to my partner to have to live with uncertainty? I couldn’t start a life with someone and then leave him with a sorrowful heart when I died.

The baggage was beginning to feel heavy. It was time to make some changes. My heart coaxed me gently.

At the end of February 2014 I went on a Callanish Retreat that changed my life. To try and put into words what a week with the “Callanish ladies” did for me is impossible, but it was the “moment” that I had been waiting for since my first diagnosis.

Cancer persay, did not change my life, but it brought me to a place in which I was ready to care for all my baggage. It was something I should have started a long time ago, but I wasn’t ready. Cancer was what had brought me here, but it was more than cancer I was dealing with. Healing myself involved pulling back the bandages and uncovering years of hurt, loss and pain – open wounds that had been ignored years before my cancer.

During a pivotal session on retreat I sculpted two figurines. Only when they faced each other was the sculpture complete. In that moment, with my two hands placed gently on each figure, I realized life was an interaction. Cancer had unknowingly created many fears within me. I was alive, but I was refusing to fully interact with life. I was turning away from possibilities because I had subjected myself to a story that was not true.

Life is a dance that we can choose to turn away from or fully embrace.  I walked away knowing that I was ready to live.



By Sylvia Soo

Will you dance with me?

In this dance which we call life?

Dancing slowly so not to miss how delicate it is.

Will you dance with me?

In this dance which we call life?

Stare with me in its eyes

holding our gazes steady

so we do not miss how

it trembles.

Will you dance with me?

In this dance which we call life?

Grasp its tender embrace

that is warm and gentle.

Kiss its tender lips,

with passionate

intense fervor.

Dance with me through all its seasons

till your feet are tired and weary.

Dance with me together in this dance

which we call life.