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Surviving Cancer: Your New Beginning in Life

From the Show: Naturally Savvy
Summary: Hearing the words “you have cancer” no longer has to mean an end to your life. Instead, it can mark the start of a new beginning.
Air Date: 5/6/15
Duration: 10
Host: Andrea Donsky, RHN and Lisa Davis, MPH
Guest Bio: Bill Aron, Photographer
Bill Aron, himself a 20-year cancer survivor, is an internationally renowned photographer. Long known as an environmental portrait photographer and a chronicler of Jewish communities throughout the world, Aron’s photographs have been exhibited in major museums and galleries throughout the United States and Israel, including the Museum of Modern Art, the International Center for Photography, the Jewish Museum, the Chicago Art Institute, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Mississippi Museum of Art, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel-Aviv. His previous books include From the Corners of the Earth and Shalom Y’all: Images of Jewish Life in the American South. Aron lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons, where he is quite possibly the only photographer with a PhD in sociology (from the University of Chicago).

Most importantly, Aron knows cancer firsthand and truly understands what the 120 survivors he has profiled have in common. His powerful book documents the triumphs of inspiring people in ways that offer cancer patients the hope for new beginnings.
  • Book Title: New Beginnings: The Triumphs of 120 Cancer Survivors
Surviving Cancer: Your New Beginning in Life
Over 4,500 patients are diagnosed with cancer each day. Not too long ago, this diagnosis would have been considered a death sentence, but, thanks to advances in treatment, there are almost fourteen million survivors in the U.S.

Hearing the words “you have cancer” no longer has to mean an end to your life. Instead, it can mark the start of a new beginning.

Bill Aron’s New Beginnings: The Triumphs of 120 Cancer Survivors is a book for and by those who have endured one of the greatest hurdles of their lives.

Featuring a collection of narratives and photographic portraits of men, women, children, and families of varied ages and ethnicities, New Beginnings inspires hope in its readers. The triumphs of the 120 cancer survivors Aron features, and what they have in common, is something every cancer patient should know.

While cancer may have ushered in one of the most difficult periods of the lives of these 120 survivors, it also ignited one of the most profound.

Coming from all walks of life, survivors include Sally Craigen, who never stopped enjoying life, even after her second cancer diagnosis three decades after her first; Rabbi William Cutter, already a survivor of three heart attacks by the time he faced prostate cancer; Sophia Colby, who, following her cancer diagnosis at fifteen months old, has endured more in her ten years than many people do in their entire lives; professional basketball player Coby Karl, who hasn’t let thyroid cancer stop him from pursuing his dreams; and over one hundred others.

Listen in as Aron joins Andrea and Lisa to share more about his own personal journey with cancer (and the lessons he learned), as well as the journeys of the 120 individuals in his book.

RadioMD PresentsNaturally Savvy | Original Air Date: May 6, 2015
Hosts: Andrea Donsky, RHN & Lisa Davis, MPH
Guest: Bill Aron

Your organic search is over. Here Naturally Savvy, with health expert Andrea Donsky and Lisa Davis.

LISA: I love books that have photographs and stories that are moving and life changing, and a wonderful book is New Beginnings: Triumphs of One Hundred Twenty Cancer Survivors. It is by Bill Aron who joins us now.

Hi, Bill!

BILL: Hi, Andrea. How are you?

LISA: Oh, this is Lisa but Andrea is here as well.

BILL: Oh. Hi, Lisa.

LISA: I am so glad…You know, I was lucky to talk to Bill a few weeks ago and we had such a wonderful conversation. And, you know, Bill, I'd love to start with your own experience being a cancer survivor and what you found after you survived. You're like, "Okay. Now what?" because life has really changed hasn’t it and it's so important to shed a light on this for folks.

BILL: It is. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was devastated. My first reaction was, of course, terror and fear and there was nothing positive out there. And later, as I became accustomed to living with the idea with the presence of cancer, the idea for this book began to formulate itself. I went to a support group and at the support group someone said, “Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me.” I said, “No way. This is a terrible thing,” and as I talked to that person and as I talked to more people, I began to see that cancer was even stronger than a wakeup call. It became a turning point in people's lives in which they used their own resources to look inward. Some people needed help with that, and that was the origin of the book. And the book became not a book about cancer, not about diseases that we call cancer, but a book about the individuals who go through this experience and what it's like for them.

LISA: So, Bill what were some lessons that you learned along the way that when you were photographing these survivors?

BILL: Well, the survivors, they really became my teachers, because as I began the project both in experimenting and figuring out what kind of structure to give the book. And then, later on I began to see how some people took the lessons of living the best life that they could live and applying it to their lives. Some needed help, some need a therapist, some support groups, and sometimes there were just sensitive physicians that helped. But some people changed careers. Many of the people want to give back to the cancer community and they started websites; they started organizations, and some people even felt that they were living for the people they had known, who had died during their experience.

LISA: So Bill, was there a certain age... I’m sorry. I have the book in front of me and for those of you, obviously, listening, I definitely recommend purchasing it, New Beginnings: the Triumph of One Hundred Twenty Cancer Survivors by Bill Aaron. And what I noticed, first of all, is that it spans many different age groups, but also the pictures themselves are quite fantastic. In every one of the photos people, have the most beautiful big smiles. They're not just turning their lips upwards, they are smiling! They are laughing! And that I find that pretty spectacular. I mean, as a photographer, I mean, you must be fantastic at what you do.

BILL: Thank you. Thank you, Lisa. What I did was interview the people, usually for about two hours, and then at the end of the interview we figured out what kind of photograph to take that would best describe, best show how they were feeling about the experience they went through. I think the important thing to point out here is that cancer makes us realize that each day is meant to be appreciated. There was a wonderful little girl who was diagnosed at age fifteen with a cancer that usually is fatal and she was like a month away from the point of no return. And her mother told me that she discovered that life is about moments. I'll just read a tiny excerpt, "We have started to live day by day, hour by hour, and sometimes second by second. And when you sit there with those seconds seemingly so long, you realize how many of them you have." And then she went on to describe how her biggest gift in life was the smell of her daughter's hair in the morning, and her daily gift with getting to snuggle with her daughter every day.

ANDREA: That is so sweet.

BILL: People took in, and assimilated, this experience in many ways. Some people were able to sum it up, I think there is Ed Finestein is a rabbi in Los Angeles, who summed it up, I think, beautifully. He said, “The way of healing is to balance the loss, and fear, and rage, with a sense of gratitude. When they balance, we are whole whether or not we are cured,” and I think those two poles: the rage, and the fear, and the anger balanced with a sense of gratitude that we're still alive; that we can lead a life well-lived. A very close friend of mine, when we were talking one day, said "You know, I don't want to have cancer, but I wish I had that kind of survival experience that you had, so that I could really examine my life and make changes in the things that I'm not happy with." And I think cancer survivors in that sense can show us the way to a better life, a life well-lived, as they say.

LISA: Yes. That makes so much sense. Well, it sounds like it’s really done that for you, and the people in the book. One of the people in the book was a girl who got diagnosed at fifteen months old, and I know you thought her recently.

BILL: Yes, I held--in my backyard, I held sort of a book party, for as many people as could come who participated in the book. And her mom brought her and I…she’s just adorable. I couldn’t stop hugging her.


LISA: She is eleven now. Correct?

BILL: Nine. Nine, I believe

LISA: Nine.

ANDREA: It’s amazing. You know, Bill, we have about two minutes left. This is Andrea. Is there anything that you…You know, obviously, you know, I asked you about the lessons that you learned but did you see some type of synergy from all the people that you interviewed? Was there something to a testament to their strength that stood out that nine out of ten people had? Or something that was very much the same for most people across the board?

BILL: Yes. That’s a tough question, a good one but a tough one. My overall sense is that these hundred and twenty people--I mean it's not just a couple. We can't deny that that they're a fluke. But, these hundred twenty people have inner strength that I really quite admired and tried to live up to in my own life. They were able to, and it wasn't just something like "I'm not going to let this disease get me down." It was much more of "I want to make the most of whatever time I have left. If I'm going to die next month, so be it. Or next year, so be it. But I want, from now till then, to count.”

ANDREA: Interesting.

BILL: One person talked about angels.

ANDREA: We have about 30 seconds.

BILL: Pardon?

ANDREA: We have about 30 seconds.

BILL: Oh. Okay. One person talked about angels and ordinary people who do just these extraordinary acts of kindness, and they never ask anything in return and he said what cancer has taught him is that the goal of life is to become someone’s angel.

ANDREA: Well, we are big huge believers in angels in the universe here. So…Well, thank you, for being on our show, Bill. You can learn more about Bill at BillAron.com. You can also pick up a copy of his book, and, also, it makes for a great gift for somebody you know that has survived cancer. I am Andrea Donsky along with Lisa Davis.

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