Cancer patient with daughter

Cancer is terrifying. It’s one of the few diseases that continually eludes our attempts at a cure, devastating the lives of many of those it affects. But despite its ability to ruin lives, there are people who have beaten it, and not only this, but they’ve gone on to use their experience as motivation to help others do the same. The inspiring stories of these survivors are remarkable, showing the power of the human spirit to endure, and to use even the worst situations to make the world a better place.

When we encounter hardship, it’s easy to just give up and wallow in our misery. That’s a problem—when we do this, we lose our chance to use our situation for good. But sometimes, all it takes for us to keep going is a little inspiration. And so, to inspire you, we’re going to look at 3 inspiring stores of those who beat cancer, and who used their experience to help others.

If these cancer survivors can turn their tragedy into generosity, you can do the same. We all have our hard times, and we can look to the stories of these cancer survivors to inspire us to make the best of each moment.

Melanie Griffith

Melanie, according to her blog, is the mother of three children, a former lawyer, and a former production assistant for two television shows. She is also a volunteer, a fundraiser, a dancer, and a cycling instructor in New York City. On her arms, she wears fashionable stacks of bracelets that give her a roguish air.

Oh, and she has really cool hair.

You’d never know that, in November of 2010, she was told that she had chronic lymphoma. Doctors found multiple tumors throughout her body. The prognosis wasn’t good.

At first, she didn’t feel any discomfort. "I don't feel sick. In fact, I feel stronger and healthier than ever," she said, in an interview with More magazine.

On her blog, Melanie describes why she wears her multiple bracelets—she calls them “superhero cuffs,” and they remind her to always keep fighting. One of the most meaningful came from her doorman, who gifted her a bracelet which was given to him in Africa to remind him to be strong. He wanted her to have it as she went through chemo.

With this as her inspiration, Melanie survived her bout with cancer, and went on to become an extraordinarily popular indoor cycling instructor at SoulCycle—the first-ever student to become a Master Instructor, in fact, and is now the Director of Instructor Development. She got into the fitness field in order to help keep others healthy, and to give them to tools to live life to the fullest.

“We have one life to live,” she writes. “Just know how you want to be and be it. It really is that simple."

Kris Carr

Kris had it all. She was an actress with not one, but two Super Bowl commercials under her belt. But things changed on Valentine’s Day of 2003, when doctors diagnosed her with epithelioid hemangioendothelioma, a rare cancer of the linings of the blood vessels in the lungs and liver. To her shock, 24 tumors were found throughout her body, and the cancer, when found, was already at its most advanced stage. Doctors told her it was incurable.

In an interview with Scientific American, Kris described this moment as being “punched in the stomach by God.” Cancer is such a frightening word,” she said. “How could this be happening to me? Cancer happened to other people.”

But instead of giving up when doctors told her the end was near, she chose to begin truly living. "This whiskey tango foxtrot moment sparked a deep desire in me to stop holding back and start living like I mean it! I wanted to feel better, love harder, and enjoy my life more fully," she said.

And she did. Kris filmed her experience with cancer, transforming it into the award-winning documentary “Crazy Sexy Cancer.” She also produced four books that chronicle all she learned about herself during this process.

In the end, Kris miraculously survived her ordeal, although she prefers the term “cancer thriver” to “cancer survivor.” Her documentary, blog, and books continue to inspire others, guiding them toward the same journey of self-discovery that cancer forced her to undertake.

Wendy Rahn

Wendy is a political science professor from St. Paul Minnesota whose life changed in 2006, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Twice, doctors had dismissed a lump in her breast as insignificant, but when she insisted on having it removed, it turned out to be cancerous.

Already having proven herself to be proactive in the pursuit of her own health, she, again, bucked conventional medical advice after having post-reconstructive surgery. Instead of relegating herself to bed rest, she began regularly exercising after reading up on research that showing the benefits of exercise for cancer patients.

In an interview with Experience Life, Wendy said that "No one on my healthcare team had bothered to tell me how important exercise is. It’s not exciting nanotechnology kind of science, but it’s good, solid research—and it’s falling through the cracks.”

Within just a few months—and again, against the advisement of those around her—Wendy started Survivor’s Training, a nonprofit organization dedicated to getting life-saving exercise therapy information out to cancer patients. Eventually, she started a website that provides community-level support to patients, and opened Survivor’s Training gym to prove a space for exercise therapy to be put into practice.

From her harrowing experience, Wendy learned the importance of not only standing up for yourself, but of using her own experiences to help others. With her own success story behind her, she now works to help people all over the world find the information she wishes she had during her own experience with cancer.

What’s Your Turning Point?

There’s one key feature to all of these real-life cancer survival stories: they’re all about people finding their turning point, and using it to find a better path. For these three women, cancer was that turning point—it forced them to come face-to-face with their own strength, passion, and purpose, which they chose to embrace.

That has made all the difference in their lives, and that of those they’ve helped.

So what’s your turning point? Don’t leave your life up to chance by waiting for a tragedy to change your life—create your own change, and do it now. Use your experiences to improve your life, make it your own, and use what you’ve learned to help others.

Let these stories start that process within you. Get inspired, and get going.

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