After cancer: taking one step at a time

Thanks to medical progress, technological advances, and more accurate testing, more and more children and adolescents are being healed after a diagnosis of cancer. But what’s the significance of the word “healing” when society continues to associate the word cancer with death and puts the lives of all these survivors on hold. For me, when I think of the word survivor, I don’t just think of someone who “makes it through”; these people are now living a life that’s above and beyond most people’s experience. Besides being proud of these patients and everything they achieve with such courage and determination, these young adults should be considered a treasure, an enormous resource for a society such as ours that’s constantly in search of real values! They are living proof that cancer is a test, a life experience, a challenge and by the same token, a stepping-stone to a life full of meaning. They have new values, new beliefs and priorities and an ever-increasing willingness to embrace life. They are changed by the experience; they grow up and are too often quickly thrown into an adult world. These survivors have a marvelous capacity – and I would say even a newfound capacity – to live in the moment and find happiness in every little detail of life. This is where wisdom begins.

And so, is there life after cancer? Definitely. But both patient associations and families talk more and more about the problems they face on an ongoing basis. It could be anything from a difficult face-to-face with a banker or insurance company or an employer who is not open to giving them more responsibility or encouraging a return to full-time work. And this doesn’t even take into account the difficulties of dealing with those who want to treat them with kid gloves because they “almost died from cancer”. Cancer remains a taboo and it isolates the person who’s had it from others around him. It’s necessary then to develop an extraordinary will to find oneself and also to find one’s place within all levels of society.

Certain organizations like “On the Tip of the Toes” are pioneers and for the past 10 years have helped children living with cancer to meet an incredible challenge, often the challenge of their lives! These expeditions to faraway places are also interior journeys in which these children find themselves and reconcile with themselves. Bonds are made between the participants, all of whom have the same passion for life and an almost visceral need to give real meaning to their lives. The fears and doubts are not ever-present and are only there to be shared amongst them as they sit around the fire to share their stories. Throughout these trips, they build the strength to continue and to open up to a new life. They know that on the other side of the mountain, there are wonderful life experiences to discover. Thanks to the foundation’s president, Annick Dufresne, and all the foundation’s volunteers who work non-stop, these young adults have a future.

These initiatives must be continually encouraged in order to give back to these young people the place they deserve in society. We can do our part to help these cancer survivors, who today are more and more numerous. In France, the Anti-Cancer League has put in place a hotline to offer guidance, information and support about insurance. This national service, unique in its genre, is anonymous and confidential and is staffed by banking and insurance professionals. Why not go one step further and develop a similar service for people with cancer who have legal problems to deal with, where they could get the help of volunteer lawyers along with the help and advice of oncologists.

I would like to say to all the survivors that there are still thousands of things for us to learn and there’s still so much that we can give to you. A long life to all of you!


Dr. Anne-Sophie Carret
Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist
The Montreal Children’s Hospital of the MUHC