Cancer Survivors, Victims, or Thrivers: What Will You Be?


People use the generic phrase “cancer patient” to describe those affected by cancer, irrespective of their stage or condition. Sometimes “cancer survivors” is also used. But are they the same? If not, how are they different? Can we find clearer and more descriptive language, instead of painting everyone with the same brush? 

Cancer Survivors, Thrivers & Victims

who are cancer survivors


The cancer diagnosis is devastating news for anyone to hear. The mind is fraught with confusion and fear: ‘Am I going to die? Why me? What about my family?’ At a time like this, it is only natural to feel dejected and even cheated by life. We understand this as we’ve experienced it too.  But if you let cancer dominate your life and define who you are, you will only make it harder to heal.

While you need to make many difficult choices, a crucial one is this: Which tribe do you want to join … cancer victims, cancer survivors or cancer thrivers?

Let’s understand these three tribes in greater detail. They differ considerably in their mindset, their approach, the path they choose.

1. Victim

Cancer is a deadly disease and its statistics are chilling. Not surprisingly, most people equate cancer with a death sentence. Cancer is also a mysterious disease and no one can precisely pinpoint its cause. So it is easy to externalise the illness. Hence most cancer patients see themselves as victims of this larger-than-life tragedy. As a result, they may feel hopeless and afraid. This negative mindset can seriously hamper the healing process.

In our work, we notice that Victims tend to give their power away – to the family, to the doctor, to the priest, and sometimes, even to the charlatan. They live tepidly, on someone else’s terms, not their own. They never really recover from the perceived ‘attack’.

Victims reconcile themselves to somehow coping with a ‘sub-normal’ life.

2. Cancer Survivors

The scary statistics don’t tell you about the thousands of cancer survivors who have crossed the 5-year mark and are considered ‘cured’ by Western medicine. In percentage terms, they may be small but in absolute terms, they are significant.

In our work, we observe that cancer survivors fight the good fight, using their strength, will-power, courage and optimism. They don’t buckle under and they never give up hope. They try to put the distressing cancer episode behind them, like nightmare they would rather forget.

Cancer survivors claw their way back to a semblance of the ‘old normal’.

3. Cancer Thrivers 

cancer survivors or cancer thriversAnd then the smallest group are the cancer thrivers. Not only do they beat the statistical odds, they also turn their cancer experience into a springboard for transformative growth.

Instead of giving in to self-pity (like cancer victims) or by going to war (like cancer survivors), Thrivers take a different approach: they ‘honour’ their cancer, not fight it. They reclaim their lives and grow from the experience.

Cancer Thrivers live each day as newer and better versions of themselves. They create and embrace the ‘New Normal’.

Who Will You Be?

In one of his articles, cancer expert and writer Henry Relfield says:

Cancer can be a door to greater health and life-affirming well-being. While it is not the easiest way to discover additional meaning and joy in life, the cancer experience can certainly take us there, if we allow it to. The willingness to let this disease transform us, so that we honor and cherish life even more fully makes us more than ‘survivors’ – it turns us into ‘thrivers’.

Inspiring Thriver Stories

cancer survivors storiesDuring the difficult cancer journey, you may often feel down and out. At such times you may benefit from being inspired by those who strode tall on the same path. Not cancer survivors or victims, you yearn to hear the stories of cancer thrivers.

We have carefully compiled and curated a powerful collection of thriver stories (see Cancer Thriver profiles here). Every one of these people have gone through cancer’s lowest lows, and were able to turn cancer as a learning and a growth experience.

In summary, cancer thriver see cancer as a “life opportunity”; cancer survivors see it as a “big fight” and cancer victims see it as a “death sentence”.

It is ultimately a choice. What will you choose?


  • What is your relationship with cancer? How can you make it one of equals?
  • How would you like to live your cancer journey?
  • What will help you make the leap from cancer victim or survivor to thriver?
  • What is your thriver story? Can you write it down or narrate it or even share it with us, so that it can benefit many others?


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