For Cancer Survivors, a New Look at New Year’s Resolutions

Olivia Bowie says she’s never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. Since she couldn’t keep commitments like eating healthier or working out more, she didn’t bother making them, the college student jokes.

Then, in 2015, doctors discovered she had rhabdomyosarcoma.

“Being diagnosed with cancer, and going through treatment, has changed my whole outlook,” says Bowie, a patient at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center who is now cancer-free and a junior back at Assumption College. “I would classify my new attitude and actions as a ‘New Life Resolution’ to treasure every moment that I have with my friends, family, and with myself.”

Olivia Bowie, christmas, holiday, new year, resolution, sarcoma
Olivia celebrating the holidays during treatment in 2015 (left) and out of treatment in 2016.

Bowie is not alone. For many cancer survivors treated at Dana-Farber, setting goals for the year ahead – and beyond – has taken on a new meaning since their cancer experience.

“After my surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, which all happened in one calendar year, I made a commitment to myself to do what I could to increase awareness of male breast cancer,” says Michael Johnston, a burly ex-Navy man and father of three who received this rare diagnosis in 2009. “Once I did that, my next commitment was to my wife, Paula, to travel anywhere she would like to go. I’ve been holding true to this while also trying to meet my third resolution – to take each day for what it brings and look for the silver linings. This is not a test run through life. You have one shot, and you need to make it count.”

Mike Johnston, male breast cancer, holiday, new year, resolution
Mike and his wife Paula (second and third from left) celebrate New Year’s Eve in 2016.

Donna Halper, like Bowie, never made traditional New Year’s resolutions. Her favorite holiday traditions revolved around Hanukkah, which commemorates the ancient story of a small band of Jewish settlers who miraculously defeated the Greek armies to maintain their religious freedom.

It was right around Hanukkah 2014 that Halper learned she had uterine (endometrial) cancer. Suddenly, like her ancestors who fought to save their way of life, she was the one facing a daunting challenge.

“I’ve always liked the message of Hanukkah – that yes, miracles do happen, and yes, there are times when the light of knowledge and optimism can pierce the darkness of fear,” says Halper.

After working through her own fear, Halper has adopted a healthy confidence. “Since my surgery, I’m especially happy to be alive – no matter what day it is.”

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