What It Means to Be a Cancer Survivor

My name is Kelli. I am a wife, mother, sister, daughter and cancer survivor for more than 38 years.

In 1977, at the age of 12, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in my left leg. My doctor recommended amputation and I spent my junior high school years learning to walk with a prosthesis and enduring 15 months of chemotherapy. Then, in 2010, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I spent most of that year recovering from a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

This year marks five years since my treatment ended, the magic number when cancer patients are considered cured. I believe you become a survivor the day you are diagnosed as you begin to navigate the unknown world of cancer at a time when you realize your life will never be the same.

Being a survivor allows me the opportunity to reach out to family, friends and strangers. I was so very blessed with survivors who helped me during my cancer journey. I want to pay it forward to others. I am often overwhelmed at what a privilege it is to talk with cancer patients and their loved ones about such a difficult and personal topic. Listening to their worst fears and sharing mine often leads to a feeling of not being alone in their fight; knowing that others have traveled the same path and come out on the other side cancer-free.

As a survivor, I also feel a sense of obligation to be available, no matter where or when. I have been stopped in the grocery store, pulled aside at parties, and answered phone calls and emails from people looking for guidance as they begin their cancer journey. I once met for coffee with a young woman I didn’t know to answer her questions. I have visited the friend of a friend at her home just after surgery. And, I have listened on the phone as a relative called in tears after her diagnosis. I hear the fear in their voices as they ask questions. If I can alleviate just a little bit of the fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis by taking the time answer questions and share the details of my story, I am honored and humbled to do so.

I have made it a priority as a cancer survivor to educate myself about reducing the risks of cancer, along with learning the guidelines on cancer screenings. I share the information to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen. What an amazing feeling it is when I have made an impression on a woman who is over 40 to finally get that first mammogram!

But most importantly, being a survivor provides me with a unique perspective on life. Like everyone else, I get caught up in my busy daily life. As a cancer survivor, I am reminded how fragile life is and to never take the ordinary things for granted. Cancer does not define me, but being a cancer survivor is a huge part of who I am.


Kelli AndresKelli Andres, 50, is a stay-at-home mom and lives in Sylvania with her husband of 25 years, Van, and two sons, Patrick, 13, and Noah, 9. She is an active volunteer for her sons’ schools, her church and with Susan G. Komen for the Cure.