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 anyone who has received a medical diagnosis and is alive. 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.

The question is: What kind of survivor do you want to be? 

I didn't want to just survive; I wanted to thrive. The irrepressible internist in me nudged the writer in me to find a medically appropriate adjective to clarify what kind of survivor I was trying to be. One word popped out: healthy. [From A Healthy Survivor.]  As defined above, you can be a Healthy Survivor no matter what your condition or prognosis. Healthy Survivorship is about making life the best it can be, accepting what is, and embracing what joys are possible.

While there is no single "right' way to become a Healthy Survivor, there are best ways for each patient. While facing medical challenges, patients have to forge and follow their own unique path to Healthy Survivorship—one that takes into account their strengths and weaknesses as well as the challenges they face, the losses they suffer and the uncertainty of life after illness or injury.

There is life after serious illness or injury. Patients’ efforts to become a Healthy Survivor can help them make it a good life.


Hope is an image of goals
planted firmly in your mind.
When looking at life before you,
hope lines the paths you find.

Hope is a well of courage
nestled deep within your heart.
When faltering in fear and doubt,
hope pushes you to start.

Hope is an urge to keep going,
for limbs too tired and weak.
When apathy stills all desire,
hope sparks the fuel you seek.

Hope is a promise of patience
as you wait for distress to wane.
When all you can do is nothing,
hope pulls you through the pain.

Hope is a spirit that lifts you, 
should heaviness pull at your soul.
When torn apart by losses,
hope mends to keep you whole.

Wendy S. Harpham, M.D.

For more poems on survivorship click here.