John Polo Feature

Sometimes life gives you special moments that take your breath away, like the first time you’re reunited with your high school love or when you find a photo of your wife in a wedding dress you never got to see her in. Both of these moments happened to John Polo, a 33-year-old widower from Illinois whose wife passed away from proximal-type epithelioid sarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer.

After dating in high school and then going their separate ways, Polo was reunited with Michelle eight years later. He proposed a year into their relationship, but a year later they got the devastating news: Michelle had proximal-type epithelioid sarcoma — a cancer so rare her specialist said only one person in the world gets it per year.

John and Michelle

Four days after her diagnosis, they rushed to the courthouse and were married in July 2013. Five days later, they removed Michelle’s kidney. She underwent chemo and radiation and appeared clear for a while, but then the cancer came back, and by 2016 it had spread to her liver, ovary, tailbone and lung. At this point, it was terminal.

“It was a cancer battle from hell,” Polo tells The Mighty.

After having the tumor in her lung and ovary removed, and a failed attempt at an immune therapy clinical trial, the two decided to plan a real wedding. The date was set for February 6, 2016, but Michelle passed away on January 22, 2016.

A week after Michelle passed away, Polo found the picture of his wife on her phone, but he didn’t share it on Facebook until August 31 of this year. He was waiting until the time seemed right to share it with the world.

Michelle wedding dress

The post reads, “She loved that dress so much. While at hospice, she would talk to people about how great the wedding was going to be. She wasn’t coherent enough to realize that she wasn’t going to make it to there. Michelle died without me ever seeing her in that dream dress.”

But Polo did eventually see Michelle in that dream dress, and so did the world. In just a few days the post has gone viral and has garnered thousands of heartwarming comments.

Polo is channeling that support through his personal blog, Better Not Bitter Widower, which he started a month after Michelle passed away, and has sparked a deep passion for writing and speaking about love, loss, grief and healing.

John and Michelle 2

His first book, “Widowed. Rants, Raves and Randoms,” comes out in about two weeks, and he’s even started speaking and hosting workshops on grief to help others.

“I want to change the way society looks at grief. I want to help others find healing. I want to make something good come out of an unspeakable tragedy.”

Polo’s life has been filled with memorable moments, both good and bad, and these moments have given him a new purpose in life as an author, blogger, speaker and life coach.

Black and white John and Michelle

“I know there will be times in which you don’t think you can make it through a profound loss, but I am proof that you can. Not only can you make it through, but in time, you can actually learn to live again.”

Follow Polo’s Better Not Bitter Widower journey on Facebook

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When someone says they’re in ‘recovery’ for cancer, this is what they really mean.

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I’m in recovery for cancer.

But that doesn’t mean I’m better.  

What Being in Recovery For Cancer Really Means

Recovery means the ‘what if’s.’

What if I hadn’t gotten cancer?

What if the cancer comes back?

What if I’m not really ‘better?’     

What if my body is beyond repair?

What if people treat me differently?

It means unintentionally feeding a mental illness that fills up with terrible thoughts.

Maybe I deserved to get cancer.

Maybe next time I won’t be so lucky.

Maybe someone I love will get cancer.

Maybe I’m not as strong as I thought I was.

Maybe I’ll never get my shit together.

It means feeling guilty for surviving when others have not.

It means forever having emotional and physical scars.

It means constant checkups and accepting a new ‘normal.’

It means anxiously awaiting unknown test results.    

It means being prepared for what could happen again.

I may be in recovery for cancer,

But there is so much more going on.

Sometimes I need a helping hand to remind me of my strength

And that I can face whatever comes my way.


A woman diagnosed with breast cancer shares 10 powerful and amazing life lessons she learned from her cancer diagnosis.

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Read the full transcript:

10 Really Powerful and Amazing Things Cancer Taught Me

You can’t live scared.

Surrender to life.

School doesn’t teach you the game of life.

I could change my story at any time.

It’s OK to fall apart.

From the day we are born, we are dying.

There was beauty in my brokenness.

I could never again forget to stay in communication with my soul.

I’m not waiting to die to get my wings.

Cancer didn’t make me a survivor — I always was.

Written By Maimah Karmo


On Friday, almost exactly one month to the day that it was announced her father Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was diagnosed with brain cancer, Meghan McCain tweeted that he had just completed his first round of radiation/chemotherapy:

McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, on July 19, and returned to Congress 11 days after a routine procedure to remove a blood clot above his left eye.

As news about this spread through social media, many Twitter users offered encouraging words of support:


People often wonder how they can help cancer patients and their families. Since you can’t take their cancer away, can you really make a difference? Yes, absolutely!

Your friendship is significant, and the things you say and do will really matter to the patient and his or her family. So if you want to make someone with cancer feel loved, try some of these tips.

1. Show up.

Sit with them at chemo or watch a movie on their couch. Bring a deck of cards, a plate of brownies, a funny joke or nothing at all. When they are in the hospital ask if they want visitors. Don’t be offended if they are too sick; usually they love company.

The best way to know what they need is being present in their lives enough to see and hear them before they even ask.

2. Say something.

After diagnosis some friends disappear or avoid the topic of cancer. Sometimes the silence cuts the deepest. Don’t be that friend. Try to think of something comforting or supportive to say. It may not come out right. You may not be an eloquent speaker or writer. That’s OK. Just say something.

Tell them you are thinking of them and you want to be supportive. As you get to know your friend and how they deal with cancer on a deeper level, you will learn some of the “right” things to say. It’s OK to guess for now. They need to hear that you care.

3. Listen.

Cancer patients and their families are usually full of emotions. Once you gain their trust they may have a lot to unload. You might be surprised at their thoughts. Maybe they complain about a seemingly innocent comment from a friend. Maybe they are upset with a nurse that is trying her best. Maybe their irrational thought train tells them a new freckle means they are dying.

Never judge. Just listen. Validate their feelings and help them feel understood. Sorting through emotions is therapeutic, so ask follow-up questions if they enjoy talking. But never pressure them.

Be content to listen whenever they feel ready to talk.

4. Do something.

Don’t wait to be asked. Don’t wonder if they need anything. If they have a cancer diagnosis in the family, they most likely need something. Offer suggestions to gauge what’s most helpful if you are unsure. Otherwise take a guess and go for it.

Bring freezer meals, treats, gift cards, groceries or toiletries. Bring something fun for the kids or offer to take them to the park. Shovel their snow or mow their lawn. Invite your friend to go out or stay in with you — whatever they prefer. Bring them a blanket, book, card or gift.

5. Appreciate your life and health.

Find gratitude in the little things each day. Spend time with your loved ones and focus on the important things. Make your life worth living and fill it with joy. Think about things you take for granted. When walking down the street notice how your legs move. When eating a delicious meal pay attention to the smell and taste. When throwing a ball with your kids be glad your arm bends that way.

Live a little deeper and be a little kinder.

6. Donate.

Many cancer patients and families become passionate about charitable causes. Don’t wait for a funeral to send money in their honor. Give to cancer research if that’s their interest. It should be specific to their type of cancer or the hospital they care about.

Maybe they took a life-changing trip and want to provide that opportunity to others. Maybe they received help with lodging or travel or daily expenses. Or maybe they see a gap in cancer care somewhere you can help fill. If you can’t donate money then donate time. Volunteer at the hospital or help plan a fundraising event. There are so many ways to give!

7. Don’t forget.

Cancer is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s easy to remember your friend in the first few weeks when it’s at the forefront of your mind. But over time the story becomes familiar and fades. Cancer doesn’t usually get easier — in many cases it gets harder. So especially if you feel like the cancer treatment is never-ending, your friend probably feels that even more. Months and years down the road it’s much harder to find support.

Remember that even after active treatment your friend still faces hardships from cancer and still needs you.

Above all, your friend with cancer wants to know you care. Be there for them, be kind and find your own ways to love them. They love having you in their life and they need you now more than ever. Let cancer bring you closer and make your friendship stronger.

This post was previously published on ContemplatingCancer.com.

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Thinkstock photo by rudall30


Anyone who been touched by cancer knows it has devastating side effects. The pain and fatigue from countless hours of tests and surgeries, the loss of hair and appetite, and the physical and emotional scars often cause people to feel uncomfortable in their own skin. They may be hesitant to share the reality of their cancer, especially on social media, because they don’t know how others will react.

We wanted to show the reality of cancer, so we partnered with Fuck Cancer, an organization that focuses on prevention, early detection and support for people affected by cancer, to ask readers to share an “honest” photo related to their cancer that they wanted to show on Facebook, but for one reason or another, didn’t.

Here are their photos:

1. “Colon cancer stage 3 last year. This year it came back in a big way in both ovaries (see photo of scans). So now I’m stage 4. I’ve had a colon resection and a total hysterectomy. I’m on chemo but I feel great and nowhere near ready to give up. Fuck Cancer.” -Melissa D.

series of photos of woman with colon cancer

2. “I remember frantically looking for a reference picture of how my surgical wound would look like. And whether there would be a scar. My scar is barely visible today. This image is from earlier this year.” – Madhura S.

woman with thyroid cancer photo of throat surgery

3. “This picture was taken the first day I came back from the hospital. After the surgery, I was so self-conscious I wore a toque everywhere (it helped that it was December). Other than work, I refused to go out anywhere (that cost me a relationship). I even used makeup (oh the amount of awkward looks) to cover the whiteness. It took three years for me to finally be comfortable with my face. I’ve been makeup and toque-free for four years.” – Josh P.

cancer patient scar on face

4. “Breast cancer. You can see my mastectomy scars. And this was only half way through my radiation treatment — the burns were awful!” – Tracy F.

woman with breast cancer mastectomy scars

5. “My husband helping me shave my head. Never shared this picture before, there are worse — the chemo, mastectomy, the radiation — but this photo has a realness to it that still makes me feel… sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes sad. Is that really me? Yes it is, and then I smile and appreciate that I survived.” – Taryn K.

husband shaving wife cancer patient head

6. “Thyroid Cancer. 2006 Marshfield Wisconsin.” – MissiAnn L.

thyroid cancer scar

7. “Diagnosed 8.16.16 at age 32 just when I was getting the hang of being a mommy to our 1-year-old daughter. I’ve had to add the task of learning how to be a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend and advocate living with stage 4 cancer. This picture was after one of my most painful chemotherapy sessions that landed me in the hospital. Moral of the story… I survived because I am one of #TheMIGHTY” – Lisa

female cancer patient in hospital bed

8. “That’s the picture I took of my head after the shower when I pulled off most of my hair. I so needed to see…” – Marina T.

female cancer patient head after shower

9. “I had the courage but not the strength at that time in April this year. Robot-assisted surgery, Da Vinci XI.” – Anki H.

cancer patient stomach

10. “After my first surgery, before radiation therapy and then a total laryngectomy! Fuck cancer.” – Mike P.

cancer patient in hospital bed with hat on

11. “This was the picture when I finally realized how bad my hair loss was… and decided I couldn’t avoid shaving it anymore. I was devastated and ashamed. And I realized how incredibly sick I was and looked. Part of me felt like I had done something to deserve it. I tried so hard to be positive about everything, but when I took this picture, because I wanted to see what the back of my head looked like because it was cold, I fell apart. I never shared it because I was afraid it would scare people. And because I still am kind of ashamed. That’s not me. I don’t recognize that person in the picture.” – Joanne E.

cancer patient showing hair loss

12. “The day after my breast cancer tumor was removed from my spine — I was high ASF here.” – Fay Z.

cancer patient standing with walker

13. “When I lost my hair, I couldn’t deny that I had cancer. I felt like I was living in an alternate reality. Looking in the mirror, I did not resemble myself. As time went by, I saw the strength and beauty within me emerge. I realized that I was not my hair, I was not cancer and that no disease would rob me of myself. It was then that the fearless warrior within me began to emerge — strong, authentic and even more alive than before. I’m so thankful that my daughter was by my side. She is my biggest source of inspiration and the love of my life.” – Maimah K.

woman with breast cancer side shot of head

14. “A message to all men: deal with it rather than ignore it.” – Paul F.

cancer patient scar after surgery

15. “My mother after her mastectomy.” – Heidi W.

woman in bed after mastectomy

16. One surgery to the face and 38 hits of radiation. Fuck cancer.” – Kenny M.

cancer patient closeup face surgery

17. “I rarely post pictures of me trying to smile. It just makes me look more crooked. Cancer in my parotid gland also took my facial nerve, leaving my eye unable to blink and face paralyzed. I tell everyone that cancer broke my blinker and smiler. Fuck cancer.” – Vicki L.

cancer mom smiling

18. “Scar from removal of a stage 3 melanoma on my neck. Next picture is about a week or so after.” – Jake W.

before and after photo man with stage 3 melanoma

19. “Couldn’t stand my hair coming out in handfuls after my first chemo treatment back in March so had my daughter cut it off. Sad day for me. I had an easier time cutting my boobs off than I did my hair and I still miss my hair more than my boobs, too. Fuck cancer!” – Emily U.

cancer patient holding hair

20. “Hours after my radical hysterectomy — catheter in, swollen, full belly and numb left leg.” – Lauren L.

cancer patient after surgery

21. “Misery is a freshly-inserted NG tube.” – Siobhan D.

cancer patient with NG tube

22. “I posted this picture, took it down, posted it again and I’m not sure where it is now. This was me at 16 years old, seven years ago, no makeup, no anything. Sick and lying in bed. It bothered me because I can see how unhappy I am in this picture, and how ugly I feel. What bothers me most is that after cancer, with my head full of hair, smiles and makeup, I look at this picture and realize I still feel this way about myself at least once a day. The teenager in that picture is a part of my self-image forever. There’s a My Chemical Romance song called “Cancer” where he sings, ‘Know that I will never marry, baby, I’m just soggy from the chemo,’ and this picture is that feeling. Seven years out, between the joyful moments of being happy to be alive, I still get that feeling.” – Rachel T.

bald female cancer patient

We want to hear from you. Do you have an “honest” photo related to your cancer experience that you wanted to share with others, but didn’t? Share in the comments below.

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