My Journey through Cancer

Susan Levitt
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Copyright © 1998, Susan Levitt

Look around the room, one in every two males and one in every three females will have a chance of developing cancer in their lifetime. This is a currentAmerican Cancer Society statistic. Cancer is an equal opportunity employer. It effects children, teenagers, and adults. It does not discriminate. There are overone hundred different types of cancer in the world today.

Good morning, my name is Susan Levitt. I am a divorced, fifty three year-old mother of four grown children. I have been a Montessori teacher, antique dealer,restaurant owner and chef. I am now a full time student. Oh, and by the way, I'm a cancer survivor. The definition of a cancer survivor is anyone who has beendiagnosed with cancer and is alive today. However, once you have cancer, you always have cancer.

By the end of this speech you will understand the difference between a cancer victim and a cancer survivor.

I have become an expert in this field not by choice but by chance. I was diagnosed with stage three cervical cancer in August of 1995. Cancer is staged or rated,you know like a T.V. show, from one to four one being the lowest and four being the highest. However, highest in this rating system is not the best.

After surgery I had a series of intense radiation treatments and then two rounds of chemotherapy. My chemo consisted of a week's stay in the hospital whiletwenty-four hours a day the medication was dispensed by I.V. Since I had such a good time I elected to repeat this treatment three weeks later. Two days after mysecond round of chemo I developed a fever of 104 degrees and was rushed to the hospital. I was admitted to the hospital, had two seizures and lapsed into a coma.I remained in intensive care for a week, four days of which were spent on life support. Another happy side effect of treatment was radiation burns down to mybones on my backside. For this, I remained in the hospital for four months.

This might be a good time to point out a misconception about cancer..."If you have cancer you die." Guess what I'm still here. Oh and by the way cancer is notcatchy!

My speech will be divided into two parts:


  1. Cancer Victims


  2. Cancer Survivors



When you are first diagnosed with cancer you are in the doctors office. He says, "Susan you have cancer." You say...nothing.

This is the word that you remember your parents saying in a whisper, "cancer."

After the doctor says the "C" word everything else fades to black. Somewhere in the background there is a constant buzzing. Afterward you discover that was theoncologist discussing "staging," no...not of a broadway show....your cancer; your treatments, chemotherapy, radiation, percentages, medication, and on and on.All you can think is, "why me?"

Cancer victim seems an accurate term. After the dust settles, and it does settle, one begins to think: "there are two ways to handle can be a victim or a survivor."


The first thing that I realized is that a survivor is a victim with an attitude. Well I developed the attitude and I liked the idea of being a survivor. Besides I decidedthat dead is not much fun. I could have a choice, a very important condition, when you have cancer because cancer seems to take away your choices. I could takeback some form of control in my life.

Now surviving is a state of mind. Despite moments, hours, and sometimes days of sadness and pain you should never loose the ability to laugh at some of theabsurdity of cancer and cancer treatments. Like of the common and lovely side effects of chemotherapy is hair loss. I met a women who deniedtreatment because she thought that she would look terrible bald. I looked at her in amazement and before I could think I blurted out that she would look worsedead!

Now when it comes to doctors...this is an extremely important relationship...because you hope that he knows enough to save your life. Control here is a bigissue. He knows what he's doing and you don't have a clue what you are doing.

Well guess what, you become a quick study! Ask lots of questions. If your doctor doesn't know the answers there are a great many other sources. There are bookson everything you never wanted to know about cancer. There are books on everything from alternative treatment to vitamins. There is the miracle of thecomputer age, the internet. On the world wide web you can tap into current trials and the most up-to-date treatments. There are numerous cancer hot-lines and support groups. These groups are compiled of cancer survivors who interact with each other on a personal level and are full of encouragement and support.People who are in these groups usually exchange phone numbers and are the ones you can turn to at one in the morning when you need a friendly voice to sharethose darkest fears. And, there are other doctors. Become pro active in your treatments and recovery. Take part! This is your life. You only get one chance andthere are no make-ups!

I hope that if you are ever in this situation you will choose to be a survivor and not a victim!

After a while the differences between victims and survivors become clear.


  1. Being a victim is a state of body...Becoming a survivor is a state of mind.


  2. A victim fears loosing her hair...A survivor knows that being bald is not the point...besides bald is beautiful!


  3. A victim is amazed at all of the tears...A survivor never leaves home without her Kleenex.


  4. A victim seldom laughs... A survivor tries to find humor in everything she can even though it is sometimes bizarre.


  5. And finally, from the moment we are diagnosed we are victims... Unless we choose to be survivors!