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Living with Cancer

Living with Cancer

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

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In 2006, war correspondent and former Nightline executive producer Leroy Sievers was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer. He writes about the challenges and triumphs of battling the disease on his blog, My Cancer, and it's proven to be a source of comfort for many other cancer survivors. At last count, more than 30,000 comments had been posted to the site.

Leroy discusses everything from the physical realities of the disease — "Your arms or your legs are missing that last little 'oomph' that will put you on your feet and up on the walker." — to the difficulty friends and family members have talking about it — "The best conversations I have these days are about something, anything else. Politics, sports, books, whatever. If cancer is not in the room for even an hour or two, that's a gift."

We'll also have a personal and candid conversation with Elizabeth Edwards about her struggle with breast cancer.

If you're a cancer survivor, tell us about your experience living with the disease.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

My experience with cancer has mirrored Leroy's in time but not in outcome. I am fortunate to currently be diagnosed as NED - no evidence of disease. My journey has been made easier by the support and friendship that I have found here on Leroy's blog, among my "Cancer family".

Sent by Lesa in Kansas | 3:05 PM | 7-9-2008

How much is the median cost of treating someone with Cancer from diagnosis to death? What are the implications of this number?

Sent by Jonpaul | 3:10 PM | 7-9-2008

My mother died of breast cancer (2) years ago...her situation was similar to Elizabeth Edwards, she was cancer free for 10 years when it represented in her bones. I know what Elizabeth and her family is going through. My heart broke when I learned of her condition, but Elizabeth's spirit is the same as my mother's....she never stopped living her life and packed quite a bit in her last few years. I try to live my life the same way. Elizabeth, you and your family are never really far from my thoughts. I'm still an ardent supporter of John's and his messages of economic and social equality. You make us all better for having you in our lives...warmest regards always.

Sent by Marina Kelly | 3:11 PM | 7-9-2008

How big is the difference between a cancer treatment paid for by private insurance and that paid for by Medicaid?

Sent by Jonpaul | 3:20 PM | 7-9-2008

I read a lot of cancer survivor blogs and I sometimes want to give support but I am not sure what to say. Any suggestions?

Sent by Jill | 3:24 PM | 7-9-2008

Dear Mr. Sievers,

Thank you for your courage, compassion, and incredible wisdom that you have shared with NPR listeners/bloggers. In the past two years, I have lost two family members to cancer. Your commentaries have helped me understand and cope with their fight with cancer and finally my loss. Thank you for your insight. I am forever in your debt.

Sent by Kim from CA | 3:25 PM | 7-9-2008

I'm listening to Elizabeth Edwards right now. I was rediagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer at the same time she was rediagnosed, so I feel a certain connectedness with her. You go, Girl! I've been fighting IBC for almost nine years, and today, I'm feeling very well. But I fully understand the feeling of impending dread every time my doctor says I have to have a PET scan or CT scan or bone scan or chest x-ray. Leroy, I've been listening to your essays too, and I have been praying for you. Hang in there!!!

Sent by Gloria James | 3:26 PM | 7-9-2008

I have had breast cancer and thyroid cancer. I currently have no known cancer. Leroy Sievers and Elizabeth Edwards are so inspirational to me. Thank you for your courage and positive example.

Sent by JP | 3:26 PM | 7-9-2008

My dear brother died two months ago at the age of 68 after fighting colon cancer for 18 months. About half way through his journey I discovered your blog, Leroy. I cannot tell you how much it helped me understand what he was going through, thinking, feeling, etc. God bless you. As you continue on your journey please know you have touched many in your life and there are so many of us who hold you in our hearts with more love than you know.

Sent by Joyce | 3:28 PM | 7-9-2008

Does the government provide disability pay to those people who are too sick with Cancer to work? How do really sick cancer patients pay the rent?

Sent by Jonpaul | 3:29 PM | 7-9-2008

I was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2001. I was 29. My son was 1 1/2 and I was recently married. After surgery and chemo, I am in remission. People call me brave but I find that we are still processing all of the fear and anxiety that arises from such an experience.
Listening to the show now and it is good to know that my experiences aren't unique.

Sent by kimmy in richmond | 3:41 PM | 7-9-2008

Talking about jokes you tell when you have cancer: one of my professors had a massive brain tumor and we went to lunch with him late in the school year. At the Pizza Hut, he asked if he could have a good deal on the pizza: the "Brain Tumor Special". That's the closest I've come to both laughing and crying at the same time.

Sent by Megan Rulloda | 3:41 PM | 7-9-2008

Mr. Koppel owes the Edwards an apology for suggesting that John's answer on yesterday's show was not truthful. He was NOT saying, "pick me, pick me" in response to a possible Obama/Edwards ticket, but giving his sincere and heartfelt answer that he would serve IN ANY capacity that Obama asked him to. John Edwards has no hidden agenda Mr Koppel. His life's work is and continues to be public service particularly reducing poverty. You should applaud the man's honesty, not question it. Both John and Elizabeth Edwards are wonderful role models for others!

Sent by Gayle T Sheeks | 3:59 PM | 7-9-2008

Was very impressed by the guests and the callers, and their clarity and ability to inform us--on a personally difficult subject. Thanks so much for putting yourselves out there so that we can learn from you.

I could really connect with the remarks about 'having said something stupid' to someone with the disease. I just generally say inept and awkward things, all the time. That's one of my own struggles. But there is help for this.

In one anecdote somebody learned about the other's cancer, and blurted out something--anything--to deal with the awkward moment. "Well, I could pass tomorrow, too."

A very wise friend and mentor recommended this book to me to help me with this kind of thing. It is "People Skills" by Richard Boulton. It calls the above thing "minimizing." I'd think this book would be of help to the friends and families of cancer patients, helping them to know what to do and say, as that situation is as emotionally fraught as it could be.

One major learning for me was the point that sometimes what somebody wants from you is not some appropriate, or well-thought-out reply, but just a good open heartfelt response. If somebody breaks some news that is upsetting to hear, go ahead and be upset. And wing it. That's more genuine than stock phrases like "Oh, sorry to hear that." Maybe your being upset brings about some crying on each other's shoulders, but that's OK too. At least, that's what I gather from the book.

This prompts a question that I'd like to ask of cancer patients: Would you say that this is right? Does this apply to your situation? That what you'd like from another person is a heartfelt response? Interested in your input. To further my education.

Sent by Warren | 4:47 PM | 7-9-2008

I listened to today's broadcast with a mixture of awe and sadness. Leroy and Mrs. Edwards are heroes to me. I have lost two family members to cancer in the last few years. I watched the Discovery special that Leroy and Mr. Koppel did, and have been subscribed to the blog ever since. I rarely post, but read every entry. I rejoice every time the news is good, and am saddened every time it is not. But always, I am in awe of all these peoples incredible bravery, honesty, and generosity. Thank you all for sharing your journey with us. Cancer seems to touch us all in some way, at some time in our lives, and knowing we are in it together is immensely comforting.

Sent by Barbara Cullimore | 5:21 PM | 7-9-2008

In 2006 at age 31, when i was 5 months pregnant with our 3rd child, and while my husband was deployed, i was diagnosed with breast cancer...i have none of the risk factors and the genetic testing came back negative. I loved what they said about not listening to the statistics...the Lord is the only one who knows which side i'd fall on anyway. The chemo was safe for our son since i was already into the 2nd trimester. Getting to donate my 17 inches of hair to Locks of Love helped us(and especially my 4 year old) to find something positive and meaningful in a difficult situation... My son is now 18 months old and so healthy and happy and such a joy...we're just so grateful for how much we learned through it all and for what a gift life is!

Sent by Laura | 11:04 PM | 7-9-2008

I've had cancer twice--Hodgkins Disease in 1971 and breast cancer in 2005. Usually I'm okay with my cancer history, but lately I've felt a deep-within-me fear of recurrence. I try to dismiss the feeling, but it's always with me. Every little twinge in my breast makes me think that I'm infected with it again. My oncologist told me that given my history of cancer and all of the chemotherapy I've endured, there's a good chance of my contracting leukemia. Oh wonderful! Listening to Mr. Sievers and Mrs. Edwards shows me that we can--somehow--gather up the strength we need to face and deal with our cancers. After all, this is my life and I'm the only one to live it.

Sent by Vicki Glassburn | 5:07 PM | 7-14-2008