What is a Healthy Survivor?

  • SURVIVOR: From the time of discovery and for the balance of life, an individual diagnosed with cancer is a survivor.
                                                                                                                    National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (1986)

  • HEALTHY SURVIVOR: A survivor who gets good care and lives as fully as possible is a Healthy Survivor.
                                                                                                                               Wendy S. Harpham, MD (1992)

A survivor is any living person who has ever received a medical diagnosis. You're a survivor whether you're receiving optimal therapy from highly qualified physicians or swigging snake oil bought online from charlatans…whether you're reveling with gratitude for each and every day or paralyzed by uncontrolled pain or fear of recurrence. 

What kind of survivor do you want to be? 

After my diagnosis, the irrepressible internist in me nudged the writer in me to find a medically appropriate adjective to clarify what kind of survivor I was striving to be. One word popped out: healthy. [From A Healthy Survivor.]  The beauty of this two-criteria term is that you can be a Healthy Survivor no matter what your condition or prognosis. As a Healthy Survivor, you are making your life the best it can be, accepting what is and embracing what joys are possible. 

How do you become a Healthy Survivor?

While there is no single right way to become a Healthy Survivor, there are best ways for each patient. Each of you has to forge and follow your own unique path to Healthy Survivorship—one that takes into account your strengths and weaknesses as well as the challenges you are facing, the losses you have suffered and the uncertainty of life after your illness or injury.

My personal approach to Healthy Survivorship has been three-fold: (1) obtain sound knowledge, (2) find and nourish healing hope, and (3) take effective action. This approach has helped me land on the positive side of unfavorable statistics, find meaning in my illness and find some happiness in tough times.

There is life after illness or injury. Make it a good life. 


What is healing hope?

Healing hope is whatever hope helps you get good care and live as fully as possible.

What is hope? Hope is a feeling linked to a belief that the desired outcome can happen for you. Hope plays a major role in survivorship, because it motivates you to take action when there's something you can do to increase the chance of the desired outcome, and it helps you wait when you can't do anything to affect the outcome.

Like a potent medicine, hope can help or harm, depending on what you are hoping for. Healthy Survivors reflect on their hopes and learn to invest in hopes that help them get good care and live as fully as possible.

Links to Dr. Harpham's poems and short stories about Healthy Survivorship. 

A brief discussion of some inspirational quotes.    

For Dr. Harpham's bio, click here.      For Dr. Harpham's awards and honors, click here.