My name is Kate and I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer

Kate Middleton and I share more than just our names. We both belong to a club neither of us ever wanted to join: The cancer club.

The Princess of Wales is a newbie. I joined three years ago when a surgeon handed me a piece of paper telling me I had stage 4 cancer and six months to live. 

That paper was wrong. I'm still here, years later.

I want Princess Kate and anyone who is not a princess, which is everyone else, to have hope because there is a powerful justification for hope. While the Princess of Wales hasn't revealed what kind of cancer she has, many are not just treatable and survivable but curable — and I'm living proof.

Cancer treatments and cures are developing faster than cancer grows in patients.

A 2023 The New York Times essay entitled "Is a Revolution in Cancer Treatment Within Reach?" described multiple patients who had gotten cancer, been successfully treated, seen the cancer recur — and then successfully had the recurrence treated with something new. Thirteen years ago an acquaintance of mine got a cancer diagnosis and was told he had a year, maybe two, if he was lucky. He’s still here, thanks to new treatments that have developed over the years.  

When I first met my endocrinologist, she told me she didn’t use the word “cure” for the anaplastic thyroid cancer I’d been diagnosed with. “Hold at bay,” was her preferred term. Less than a year later, she was telling me about CAR-T cell therapy and that it could “cure” me. That was the word she used.

The movies have got it all wrong. I sobbed so loudly at the 1970 smash Love Story — in which the feisty, beautiful heroine dies of cancer at the end — that everyone around me started laughing. In the film, if a character is diagnosed with cancer at the beginning, everyone is weeping over their untimely death by the end. Fifty years later, screenwriters are still using cancer as a literary device — witness the 2014 movie The Fault in Our Stars

Reality check. In a 2023 report, the American Cancer Society found that there has been a 33% reduction in the overall cancer death rate since 1991. There are 18.1 million cancer survivors in the U.S. as of January 2022, about 5.4% of our population, according to the National Cancer Institute. The NCI predicts that number will increase by nearly 25% to 22.5 million in 2032. Yoo hoo, Hollywood! Rewrite, please!

No doctor knows everything. Let me repeat that: No doctor knows everything.

The young surgeon who handed me the piece of paper with my diagnosis and dismal prognosis had never even seen anaplastic thyroid cancer. Neither had the pathologist who made the diagnosis. None of the doctors I saw at the big New York City hospital where I was diagnosed had ever seen it. 

But, doctors at the MD Anderson Cancer Center knew all about it. They knew so much about it that they had a clinic that specialized in not just treating it but curing it. Five days after that diagnosis, I was walking into the doors of MD Anderson and talking to experts who listened to me.    

Miracles happen. In his excellent book, Cured: Strengthen Your Immune System and Heal Your Life, Dr. Jeffery Rediger, a member of the faculty at the Harvard School of Medicine, debunked the statistic that spontaneous remissions — inexplicable recoveries that people like me call miracles — happen just once in every 100,000 cases of cancer. He discovered it was a made-up statistic. He wrote that in recent years “reports of spontaneous remission have increased both in number and frequency.” Dr. Rediger routinely asks doctors attending the talks he gives at medical conferences if any of them have seen recoveries that made no sense from a medical perspective. Inevitably, several members of his audience raise their hands. 

People heal for reasons that doctors can’t always explain. A friend of mine who survived a rare and very painful cancer felt that her cure was due to a combination of cutting-edge medical treatments and the two hours of meditation she did daily. 

You, as a patient, have far more power than you think.

There was one sentence of hope on the paper with my diagnosis. “There are some long-term survivors.” I decided to be one of them. I promised my kids that I would be. And I am.

“I see so many patients who just give up,” one of my nurses said early on. “I can count on one hand the number of patients I see like you.” It must be so frustrating to be in the cancer cure business and see patients who immediately wave the white flag. 

I was a partner with my MD Anderson team. They were the cancer experts. I was the expert on me. 

I did everything my doctors told me to do: hydrating, exercising, getting rest, eating well. But I also embraced complementary therapies — the ones many members of the medical establishment once dismissed as “woo-woo.” Not my MD Anderson medical team — they encouraged me to meditate — and I was not a natural meditator. “Patients who meditate live longer. Research proves it,” my immunotherapy doctor told me. My radiation doctor suggested acupuncture. I found a Reiki healer. I stayed me, the Kate who ran, did yoga, and bought a discount ski pass to use after I’d finished my initial cure treatments. Four months after my diagnosis, I was skiing the Rockies. 

A long-time friend had an old cancer come back in a new form after 22 cancer-free years. She was confident that she would heal again. Her oncologist wasn’t. “If you’re still around in a year, I’ll be surprised.” My friend, who had hiked the Appalachian Trail solo a few years earlier, ignored her and internalized stories like Anita Moorjani’s Dying to Be Me about coming back from the brink of death. She practiced Reiki and other holistic techniques. She’s doing better than ever with a new kind of treatment. Her oncologist is now optimistic.

Pay attention to your body. If something is happening, have it checked out. Make sure your doctors listen to you. Because the sooner a cancer gets diagnosed, the quicker you can get to a medical center that can treat it.

Laughter is medicine. Back in the 1960s, a political columnist named Norman Cousins started treating his incredibly painful connective tissue disease with laughter. He watched old comedies and TV shows like Candid Camera. He found that ten minutes of laughing hard gave him two hours of pain relief. He lived decades longer than his doctors expected.

Cousins was on to something. According to How Stuff Works, "Studies have shown that laughter can increase pain tolerance, improve blood flow and release endorphins, acting as an ‘internal jogging’ that offers psychological and physiological benefits.” 

Our bodies are wired to heal. There is so much information out there for us to make sure our bodies have all the tools they need to do what they were built to do: heal. And you don’t have to be a crowned princess to do that. Just treat yourself like one.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.