Sarah Anderson Feature

Editor’s note: This post contains graphic post-operative photos.

When you first look at photos of 26-year-old Sarah Anderson, you immediately notice her gorgeous smile, and then you get a sense of her confidence and positive spirit. You would never guess that just seven years ago, the Chicago resident was diagnosed with head and neck cancer.

In December 2009, when she was 18 years old, and six months pregnant, Anderson started experiencing what she thought was a toothache that wouldn’t go away. After going to the doctor, she was told she had stage 4 invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the lower right jaw and neck.

Sarah Anderson 1

Doctors immediately had to induce Anderson for an early birth, and just days later, she started her first of many surgeries.

“My first surgery, which was 23 and a half hours long, was the most major one,” Anderson told The Mighty. “In this surgery, everything was done all at once.”

By all at once, Anderson means the cancer was removed from her face and neck, the floor of her mouth, lower teeth on the right side of her mouth, lower jaw bone and back of her tongue. She also had seven lymph nodes removed from her neck to be tested for cancer.

Sarah Anderson 2

Sarah Anderson 3

Sarah Anderson cancer removal

Two of those lymph nodes came back positive, which resulted in her having to undergo chemo and radiation therapy. She also had reconstructive surgery done. To recreate her face, doctors broke the fibula bone in her leg and used her bone, skin, tissue and veins for the procedure.

“My leg is now a part of my face,” Anderson explained.

Sarah Anderson leg surgery scar

And that was just the first surgery. Six other surgeries followed after that, including replacement of the port in the life side of her chest and insertion of a feeding tube.

Sarah Anderson post surgery

Sarah Anderson after surgery holding baby

It was in surgery number four that all of the teeth that were left, as well as a screw that had been implanted in her chin, were removed. She then had six upper dental implants placed in her mouth, and after six months of healing, she finally saw the results.

Sarah Anderson teeth removal 2

Sarah Anderson teeth removal 1

Those remarkable results can be seen and heard every Friday at 6 p.m. on her Facebook page. That’s where Sarah “CancerSurvivor” Anderson goes live on video to talk about her journey, give messages of hope and inspire thousands of listeners to beat cancer – or whatever they are going through.

Sarah Anderson selfie

Going through my journey, I didn’t have the pleasure of speaking or hearing from a person who had similar symptoms or a diagnosis as me,” she said. “I wanted to be able to give someone else what I didn’t have while going through my own diagnosis. I wanted to create a platform for those who needed some type of encouragement and strength to glean from.”

Sarah Anderson beauty shot

Today, when she’s not spending time with her now 7-year-old daughter, singing, cooking, going to church or volunteering at the hospital that treated her as a patient, she’s enjoying being cancer-free.

Yes, Anderson is officially cancer-free, and that is what inspires her to continue spreading her message of hope as a motivational speaker. She also takes pride in being an advocate for anyone going through difficult situations like cancer and depression.

Her current motto in life is: “Keep the faith to survive, no matter what.”

Sarah Anderson keep the faith

Catch Anderson live on Facebook every Friday at 6 p.m.

For more stories like this, like Cancer on The Mighty on Facebook.

All photos courtesy of Sarah Anderson


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.

Read the full transcript:

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.

Read the full version of 10 Really Powerful and Amazing Things Cancer Taught Me.

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

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Thinkstock photo by rudall30

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