by Lizzy Smith for

There are three types of people who emerge after a multiple myeloma diagnosis (or any debilitating life's challenge):

1. The Victim
A victim is the innocent person of someone or something else. It is the person in the car crash who stopped at the light just like they were supposed to, or the one who endured the beatings of a spouse, who was frauded out of their retirement savings, or gets cancer. I am the victim of multiple myeloma. I was the victim of an alcoholic husband, too, which had all kinds of consequences when I was diagnosed. I couldn’t live with him, I had to take the children out of that environment and move them away from their beloved dad. I had to leave my home, dogs, job, town I loved, and all pretense of independence. Being a victim is real and heartbreaking. But sitting in victimhood mentality is equally heartbreaking because we continue to be the passive, innocent person taking no action to move forward. It leaves us stuck in nothingness, depression, sadness– with no way out and dwelling on it.

Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (a fantastic book– if you haven’t read it, you must!) wrote: “If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.”

I certainly don’t take responsibility for getting cancer. I did all the “right” things to stay healthy. I also don’t take responsibility for my ex-husband’s alcoholism– he was that way before we met — nor do I take the responsibility for his inappropriate behavior or actions. I do, however, take responsibility for marrying the guy and not leaving sooner. I take responsibility for responding in ways that weren’t good or right. And I do take responsibility by leaving the relationship, healing and putting on my boxing gloves during the divorce. I do take responsibility for scraping myself out of bed during cancer treatments and living a really full, meaningful, fun and amazing life. It would be easy to wallow in self-pity but I have consciously decided not to. I took a lot of responsibility for taking care of my mental and physical body so I increased the odds of making it through two stem cell transplants in the best way possible. Post transplants, I have taken an even bigger responsibility for my health so I can recover and be healthy and emotionally (and physically) strong.

Victimhood is powerless and emasculating. It is not a pretty place to be or stay. But there are powerful emotions that we victims feel that helps us stay a victim. For one, victims get lots of attention from others (you poor thing!). We don’t have to take some responsibility for our actions in some circumstances. We don’t have to force ourselves off the couch and work to move out of being victimhood. Plus, there’s something that feels oddly good about validating how we have a right to wallow. Poor, helpless us.

I recently met a woman who is a fellow multiple myeloma patient. She is in remission and her treatments have gone really well. But nearly every day she complains. She cries all the time. She’s tired and sad. Her employer is getting fed up with her behavior. Her co-workers are liking her less and less. Her children aren’t calling often enough and they don’t want to be around her. She may need anti depressants but she can’t call a therapist because she can’t stop crying. It really seems as if it is far better to share with the world her plight than to be thankful for remission, for living, and for the many friends who support her. She asks how on much longer she will live. Wait a minute, I wanted to scream, aren’t you in remission? Who’s to say how much longer any of us will live, including those without cancer?  I gotta say, as someone who struggles with her same disease, I’m really tired of hearing it. One day, I sent her an email about Myeloma Crowd Research Initiative (MCR). We really need us fellow myeloma survivors to band together and help cure our disease (you can read more here). All we are asking for, at this point, is for those of us to start a team. It costs no money and takes about 10 minutes. She never responded. How many times do I hear from those who are suffering through cancer treatments and their real (and hard!) lifetime of after-effects who want to do nothing in helping themselves recover? It is utterly frustrating.

So if you are stuck in being a victim, try this: Spend the entire weekend at home. Cry. Punch your pillow or walls. Eat an entire batch of cookie dough (actually, this sounds kind of good right now). Write out a list of how life sucks. I’ll bet you can maybe come up with 100 reasons. Don’t shower. Scream at your children. After a few days, do you feel better? Probably not. You probably don’t look or smell better either. Has your situation changed a bit? No. It might be worse, though.

2. The Survivor
I once read from a fellow myeloma patient that they never used the word “warrior” when describing cancer. They are a survivor. True, I believe we earn the right to call ourselves Survivor the minute we are diagnosed. And we will be Survivors the rest of our lives. But yet when I hear this word, it conjures up the person who has awful things happen to them and they manage not to bury themselves under covers and never get out of bed. Actually, this is the best we can sometimes do. Survivors do what must be done and press on. Survivors are resilient, but it feels as though when life throws curveballs, it’s a duck, cover and fight approach, and wait for the next challenge to come.
Repeat. Yes, I survived my divorce. I survived my marriage (barely). I survived cancer. But simply surviving wasn’t good enough for me. It still felt powerless, and that is not an emotion I enjoy.

3. The Warrior
And then there’s the warrior. Warriors put on battle gear and go to work. Warriors take risks. It’s not easy but it’s empowering, and that is an amazing emotion. To conquer. When I was going through a horrific divorce and chemo and stem cell transplants at the same time, I could easily have been the powerless victim. Or just survived the experiences. But I chose to fight.

My ex thought that my physical weakness brought on by the cancer and drugs would mean he could slam me in our divorce. He thought wrong. Cancer thought it could kill me. Neither had any idea what a formidable opponent Lizzy would be. I thrived post chemo. I healed. It wasn’t easy. I forced myself to walk, hike and even run. There were days that fatigue was so intense that I had a hard time rolling over in bed from one side to the next. But I dragged myself to the shower, put on my wig, and kicked a**.

I got court filings from the ex accusing me of faking cancer and demanding I go back to work. I stayed strong. Refusing to be bullied any longer was amazing.

When I met a fellow myeloma warrior, Jenny, who also lives near me, we didn’t meet up for endless lunches and wallow in cancer self pity. We launched a web site (, started a fundraising campaign to cure our disease, and started hitting up magazines, newspapers and TV stations to share our powerful story.

I purchased plane tickets and love exploring the world. I hiked a really hard mountain and posted photos on Twitter (@lizzysmilez1) to let other cancer survivors know that it was possible to push ourselves and LIVE. I share my journey on my personal blog (
Each day, we have the choice on how we are going to respond to life’s challenges. If you have clinical depression, then you need professional help that I can’t possibly address. But for everyone else, I can assure you that feeling POWERFUL is far better than feeling emasculated. It’s not always easy, it takes work. But it’s worth it. Plus it can be really, super, exhilarating, phenomenally fun.

To read the article on, click here.