The power of positive attitude and modern medicine

  • Cancer survivor Anderson-Khleif still has fun with friends Jolie and Diane.

    Cancer survivor Anderson-Khleif still has fun with friends Jolie and Diane. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

Posted5/9/2020 6:00 AM

I don't believe I've ever mentioned this before (in this column) but I'm what they call a "cancer survivor." It's not my identity, of course, but it did happen to me, as to many others.

I thought I had escaped the probability of having cancer. But two years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery a month later. It's actually quite common, more than we'd like to think. Five in my exercise class and five in my women's group of 30 have had cancer. All survivors.


I was lucky because it was detected early, so it was a successful surgery. No chemo, no radiation. But of course there is always a chance of recurrence -- so far, so good.

A strange aspect of this experience is it gave me a feeling of a "brush with death." I think any cancer diagnosis must be like this. There's a fleeting moment where one thinks -- this might be it.

But I quickly got a grip and said to myself, "I can overcome this." Of course, it would have been much easier with my dear Baheej by my side. Well, he probably was, in spirit. Fortunately, I have very a supportive family and dear friends.

There are many other types of close calls. When he was a teenager, my brother, Nic, drove off the road in northern Minnesota. He had been out on a Friday night with his friends in the lake region outside Brainerd, our hometown.

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The doctor said they were probably drinking beer out in the woods. Nic tried to drive home in one of my father's sports cars, a little red Triumph. He barely survived. They even told us Nic may not make it when he was first taken to the hospital.

Well he did make it, but he lived the rest of his life with big metal pins in his right hip. He did fine until he was in his late 60s, when his hip and ankle started giving out.

So car accidents and other illnesses and events can produce that "brush with death" feeling. Thank goodness for modern medical science, and for many great surgeons such as Dr. Mary Ahn, in the Northwestern Regional Medical practice, who operates at Delnor Hospital in Geneva and at Central DuPage Hospital In Winfield. She saved me.

And nurse practitioner Mona was wonderful with great experience. At my 18-month checkup with them, I was given a clean bill of health. Check ups and tests every six months coming up.


The only hitch is that some of the medications that help one problem can cause another. An osteoporosis drug caused me huge problems. And another increased arthritis joint and muscle pains. So there are trade offs, but doable.

Anyway, we should take a lot of comfort in what modern medicine can accomplish. Many in my family have overcome various types of cancer. My Grandmother Anderson overcame breast cancer, my mother and brother colon cancer, both brothers and my father prostate cancer; my grandfather Hicks, mother and father all had skin cancer because of too much sun. All were cured. None of them died of cancer. That's quite a long list.

My dear Baheej had been saved once, 16 years ago, by a miraculous brain surgery at Mayo Clinic to correct normal pressure hydrocephalus. He did not die of that.

These are some of the reasons we tend to think almost everything can be cured these days. So this coronavirus pandemic is a shock in 2020 U.S.A.

We will eventually be able to combat coronavirus, too. But in the meantime, stay at home, shelter in place, let's all do our best to mitigate this awful scourge.

The point is: I went into my own cancer surgery thinking I'd be cured, and it looks so. I do believe in the power of positive thinking, and also in the power of science and modern medicine -- and in the importance of good health insurance.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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