Surviving cancer is a life-changing milestone that offers hope to the many people diagnosed with cancer each year. Find inspiration from one woman’s journey of survival

The first Sunday of June is the day that cancer survivors are celebrated. The day’s focus is on celebrating those who are still undergoing treatment, those in remission and those who play a vital role in their support systems. It’s also an important educational month for people to increase their knowledge about cancer and its effects.

We spoke to Merlin Osborne, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, and went on to beat it and continue living a life of bravery and joy:

“I was diagnosed in 2007 and I would say that after diagnosis, there are stages that you go through ranging from depression to happiness, all at different points. It’s a journey and therefore no two days are the same.

My family gave me a lot of space to deal with my diagnosis so that I could understand what was happening, in my own time. From work, I would just get in to bed and stay there for hours. That time helped me to feel revived and able to face the world.

Everyone’s story is different so what worked for me might not work for you. For example, while on chemo, I didn’t stop working. I drove myself to radiation as well and was at work every day.

A quality support system

There are quite a few organisations who provide support, like Reach for Recovery in my instance. When I was admitted to hospital to have my mastectomy procedure, someone was already waiting for me to counsel me. She provided me with a “softie”, a small pillow and a drain bag. This was so heartwarming. The ladies from the organisation are all breast cancer survivors, which helps with relating and the empathy that they extend.

What people who are diagnosed need is love and support.

We don’t need people crying around us; we need to be supported and loved. I also recommend you don’t assume you have all the answers the patient needs. I knew that my source of information was my oncologist, but when you get diagnosed, everyone starts thinking they are a doctor overnight.

A full and beautiful life

I have always been on a health buzz when it comes to eating properly. My diagnosis just made me more aware of what I consume. I added more cruciferous veggies, tomato as it contains lycopene, green veggies etc. I’ve also been running for more than 50 years, so exercise has always been important to me. I also belong to a dragon boat paddling team called the amaBele Belles (breast in Xhosa). I’m currently the captain of the team and we represented South Africa a few times.

Don’t let cancer define who you are! Don’t let it take control over you. I knew I was going to lose my hair, so before it was going to happen, I shaved it all off. I live in the now and am grateful for every year that I am spared. I celebrate life as if it is my last day on earth every day! I was not going to allow cancer to steal my joy and I’m making every moment count. We are responsible for our own joy. I don’t shy away for the word cancer. Name it and it will lose its power!

My promise to my creator was that when I am healed, I will go out into the community to educate, educate, educate. This is part of my healing and one of the reasons I decided to share my experience with you.”

The good news

Despite the very real challenges, the good news according to is that:

  • About 67% of cancer survivors have survived five or more years after diagnosis.
  • About 18% of cancer survivors have survived 20 or more years after diagnosis.
  • 64% of survivors are age 65 or older.

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