Surviving—and Thriving—When the Worst Happens

Americans are survivors. Yesterday we saw evidence of their perseverance as people in places like New York’s Staten Island, hard hit by Superstorm Sandy, walked or biked to reach dark, cold tents that served as polling places and stood in line, sometimes for hours, many of them without the benefit of a warm meal in their belly, to exercise their right to vote.

They say adversity makes us stronger. In some cases it even makes us happier, or at least more thankful for what we have. I saw those themes again and again in the stories Sharecare users sent us when we called for disease survivors to share their experiences. Their stories spoke volumes to me about the will—and willingness—to weather life’s strongest storms and build a new beginning from the wreckage.

Never give up
Anne Marie Polk of Forney, Texas, could not walk or speak following a brain aneurysm back in 1998. “I was sent to physical therapy, and the therapist remarked that most brain aneurysm patients die, and he did not know what to do with me. I had to learn to walk and talk,” said Forney, who was told to go on medical disability. “That was an insult since I was only 47 years old. I decided to start swimming laps, dragging my right leg in the water. The doctors were amazed that after six months I was able to walk. Persistence and a never-give-up attitude made me stronger. I was fortunate to return to my job and realized that I had to work on my focusing skills. After 8 years I ran a 5K race and took second place for my age group. I have learned to appreciate life on this journey.”

Thank your lucky stars
Jennifer Nagy of Belleville, Michigan, was newly married at age 32 when she went in for her Pap test and learned the awful news. “I never imagined I would hear the words ‘you have cervical cancer,’” says Nagy. “Well, I did. I was young, never had cancer, no family history. I even worked for the American Cancer Society, so I knew what to do. However, cancer still found me! I also found that I had HPV, something that was never caught on any early screenings and nothing I had known much about. Unlike today we hear about it and there is even a vaccine. My life got turned upside down and I had to make many decisions. How was I going to tell my husband? What kind of surgery or treatment would I have? Would I die? You do think the worst. After talking with great doctors, family, friends and my husband, who was my strength, I made the decision to get a hysterectomy and remove the cancer and not have children.” Today Nagy has been cancer free for four years. “I live each day with life and laughter! I have managed to run two 5Ks and traveled with my husband and stepson, who is my saving grace and the most important gift in my life.”

Invention through adversity
A recurring theme I noticed was making good come out of the worst—or, as Darcy Novick of Bayside, New York, put it, turning “cancerous lemon into lemonade.” After a lumpectomy, eight rounds of chemo and 33 rounds of radiation for breast cancer since December 2010, Novick decided to form a team and walk for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer last October. “We named our team Bosom Buddies and created a logo. Everyone at the walk freaked out over the logo, so I trademarked it and started a business to raise money for the cure. This year Bosom Buddies was a sponsor at the walk and to date we have raised almost $70,000!”

Do you have a survival experience of your own to share? We want to hear it! Please submit your story here or use the comment box below.

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Marianne Wait

A devoted health junkie, Marianne believes that information plus inspiration equals action. She spent many years at Reader’s Digest creating health books designed to help people understand complex health topics and achieve their health goals, from lowering their cholesterol and blood sugar to losing weight to sharpening their brain power.

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