From Survivor to Thriver

This month we focus on Breast Cancer Awareness; there are pink balloons and ribbons, special flower bouquets at the grocery floral shop, walks and runs to raise money for research and treatment. Some have called it ‘Pinktober’ with the flurry of pink, and sometimes that feels as excessive as the overdoing of pumpkin-flavored everything.

Last week I listened to an interview by Natalie Morales of Olivia Newton-John of Grease fame. She’s been dealing with metastatic breast cancer since 1992 when she was first diagnosed. Now she’s in her third recurrence and she described some of the pain from cancer’s spread to her bones. Throughout the interview, I was impressed by Olivia’s emphasis on enjoying life, in spite of her difficulty. It’s a comfortable conversation, since over the years Natalie has interviewed Olivia many times.

Natalie’s questions focused in on how Olivia has adapted to the changes in her life since her initial diagnosis.

“What you think creates your reality,” Olivia told her. “You have a choice in how you deal with what happens.”

These are wise words from a woman who has dealt with a life-threatening illness for many years. She could be paralized by fear and bitterness, waiting for that storm cloud that hovers to appear at any moment, that lurking thief of joy.

But instead, she exhibits grace and purpose and uses her wealth and energy to help others. She’s developed the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in her native Melbourne, Australia, offering world-class cancer treatment.

Now, I consider the difference in being a survivor and a thriver. Not everyone will deal with breast cancer, but everyone will experience hardships along the way. I know what the words survive and thrive mean, but I returned to to consider more closely the shades of meaning.

To survive is “to continue to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or set backs”

To thrive is ” to grow or develop vigorously: to flourish”

I consider these definitions applied to breast cancer. Some days after intensive treatment, just to be able to function is truly an accomplishment; To walk to the mailbox, to cook a meal, to shower and dress– what was once automatic functioning may take all the energy and concentration one can muster.

Years ago, Survivor lap with friend and fellow school nurse, Mary

On other days, surviving is prospering in spite of; these are the days when life opens up through new ways of seeing, new ways of being. They are the moments when you look into a flower and see the rich interior world for the first time; they are the minutes of holding your grandchild’s hand and walking down a path and feeling joy inexpressible; they are the times when long-held regret gives way to forgiveness. When one dwells in those ways of thinking, then the moment-by-moment choices develop into a life that is thriving.

Recently a friend shared with me her concern for a family member who is suffering. After my friend told me about all the ways this is impacting the young woman’s life, I responded that I would be praying for her. Specifically, I’d pray that she would receive the help she needed to be restored “physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.”

Later, I thought of what I’d said to my friend, and it occurred to me that we all need that type of healing to have a life that is whole. Now, I think this overlaps with how to become a Thriver; we allow our thinking to open up and reimagine our lives; we allow for our healing and wholeness in all areas–beyond our physical selves whether invaded by cancer or some other disease. We see possibility in each moment and let go of the nagging worries and ever-present anxieties that are so real, especially now.

This is breast cancer awareness month in a pandemic year; what a time of opposition, hardship, and setbacks. Some days it will feel like all we can do is keep functioning; but hopefully, eventually we’ll come to a point of prospering whatever the personal or universal challenges. Perhaps we get to that place of wholeness by self-examination through new thinking and different choices that grow our mind, body, and spirits with the outcome of transformation to thrivership.

On the shore of the Atlantic– a place of self-examination

How About You?

In what areas of your life do you feel you’re just surviving?

In what areas of your life would you like to move toward thriving? How do you need to be whole in your mind, body, emotions, and spirit?


Olivia Newton-John’s website for the Melbourne center:

8 thoughts on “From Survivor to Thriver

  1. Pingback: Weekly Round-Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  2. For those of us in the metastatic community for whim the label survivor doesn’t resonate since we will never be past cancer, the label Thriver has somewhat taken the place of survivor. It’s a label that can also fail to resonate when we’re not actually thriving, but it’s better than a lot of alternatives.


    • Hey Abigail,
      Yes, words can’t encompass the depth of what you’re experiencing; only you know the path that you’ve been walking on since you were first diagnosed.
      I can only hope that I, along with others, will listen to your perspective and be present with you– whether or not you’re closer to thriving or just getting through at that moment.
      Best to you, Abigail,

      Liked by 2 people

  3. This is another example of your wisdom. Without your perspective, there is no meaning. All that you write is a lesson in meeting the day in the beginning and continuing to encounter the challenges. As always you have touched my heart. BTW which will be two years old this month. Blessing and Love to you.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.