To live with, after and next to cancer

14 January 2020 | By Sara Ivarsson

So many of us are affected by cancer in different ways, either as a patient or a loved one. In this first blog post in a series that I'll be writing coming months, I'm sharing my story and how to find support when cancer turns life upside down.

Suddenly cancer was there

I don't remember what I felt or thought when my boyfriend got his cancer diagnosis. I cannot even remember when he, we, got it. My boyfriend ended up in the hospital when he fell and crushed a vertebra in the spine. After x-ray and a back surgery, we learned that the vertebra didn't look healthy. A suspicion that it could be cancer, but nothing was certain. Sometime after that, in the middle of the mess of changing hospital wards, new doctors, more x-rays and endless samplings, the diagnosis was set. I can't recall which ward we were in, which doctor who told us, how they told us, or what day it was. Suddenly cancer was there. In my life and scary close.

But I'm not alone. Every year more than 60 000 people are diagnosed with cancer. One every ten minutes. Today there are almost half a million people living with cancer. And by their sides are loved ones, friends, colleagues. There are only a few who are not affected by cancer in some way.

My name is Sara Ivarsson. I work as a yoga teacher and lymphatic masseur in Malmö, Sweden. As for everyone who get a cancer diagnosis my and my boyfriend’s lives took a radical turn. We were not prepared. In his case his life became too short. In my case I live with the grief daily, even though I have new goals and dreams.

I lived next to cancer. That time caused deep wounds and scars. At the same time, without my conscious thought, seeds were planted. My boyfriend didn't care about yoga. While his girlfriend was a passionate yoga enthusiast- and teacher, he declared yoga unnecessary and not for him. But when cancer made him paralyzed, and when fear woke him up in the middle of night, he asked for help. I showed exercises he could do in his wheelchair. I calmed him with guided relaxations and breathing when anxiety took over.

After cancer
Now I live after cancer. The scars left behind by the cancer will never completely go away. I will never emotionally accept that my boyfriend had to die, but when the inevitable happened I have invited the strength, clarity and wisdom that the fight against cancer brought on. The seeds that were embedded in earth have begun to grow. I value my own life, my time, my energy, in a different way. And I have changed direction in my work life.

Knowing that I, in the midst of the powerlessness, could give my boyfriend small periods of relief and alleviation when he was at his worst, has encouraged my choice to let cancer still be a part of my life. To too many it's not a choice to let cancer be a part of life, and for you I want to be a support. Today I use my knowledge and experience as a yoga teacher; lymphatic masseur; and not least a loved one; to help those who live with, after, and next to cancer. I teach yoga, I do talks and lectures, and I engage in meetings with people affected by cancer.

You are not alone
Coming months, I will be writing a series of blog posts on different themes with the hope that you can find support, help, comfort, and inspiration to handle the new life situation you are in.

Even though so many are affected, either as a patient or a loved one, life with cancer can be very lonely. I didn't know anyone like me. Not even 30 years of age, watching life end before it even really started.

It often felt like people around me didn't understand. There were clumsy choices of words, avoiding conversations, and sympathy that were more painful than helpful. Though they tried, it just felt wrong. Because no one knows how to talk about cancer. About death. About the helplessness in standing beside. About the confusion and loneliness when the healthcare declares ”Treatments finished” and life should go back to normal, except nothing is normal. About the fatigue that fogs the entire existence. About the anger and guilt when you are pissed, admittedly at the cancer but also your partner, because everything revolves around the disease and you have lost yourself.

Coming in contact with others in similar situations can be powerful support when cancer turns life upside down. To write your story; to read others' stories; to share and be able to relate to others' experiences; to understand that you are not weird, mean, or weak for thinking or acting in certain ways, because others are thinking about the same thing – that makes a difference. The power in Storytelling is great.

War On Cancer
A great initiative to embrace that power is the team behind War On Cancer. War On Cancer is a social media-app, a social network and community, where everyone affected by cancer have the opportunity to share their cancer experience and get in contact with others who actually understand.

The founder Fabian Bolin went through his cancer treatment under the same period as my boyfriend was ill. During that time I read the blog Fabian wrote about his treatment, thoughts and feelings. From his experience of the amount of support and energy he gained by telling his story, he and his team now encourages people affected by cancer around the world to share their stories too.

The physical challenge is huge for a cancer patient. The mental and emotional challenge is at least as great. War On Cancer's mission is to put focus on, and radically improve, the mental health of everyone affected by cancer. The first step is the digital social network that creates belonging and community in a time of isolation and uncertainty. You are reminded that you are never alone. We'll fight cancer together.

Learn more about War On Cancer and download their app at

Share your story, it will make a difference.

All blog posts in this series

Further reading (in Swedish)

  • Vi lever i ljuset av varandra, Carolina Molse, gästbloggare på Yogobe som förlorade sin dotter i cancer, skriver om att stötta varandra i sorgen.

Sara Ivarsson

Sara is a yoga teacher previously focusing on yoga for athletes but now working more therapeutic with focus on cancer patients, cancer survivors and their families.

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