Living with Cancer – and with Joy

Kenon Neal has been diagnosed with Stage IV esophageal cancer which metastasized to her liver, after battling cancer in various forms, on and off, over the past 28 years. Despite health challenges, she doesn’t use words like “struggle.” She uses words like “opportunity” and “appreciation.”

It’s not easy, she says. But it is a privilege to joyfully live out your days, regardless of the quantity.

She caught a glimpse of herself and her daughter in a window’s reflection a few years ago. “I asked her, ‘Do I look old?’ She eventually nodded her head yes. I wanted to shout, ‘Hey ladies, if you get to live long enough to have wrinkles on your face, you got to LIVE.’” Kenon has more than doubled her years, from her first diagnosis at 21 to today, at 45.

CaringBridge Connections

Kenon, an alumna and employee of Westmont College, has a strong community connection. “I feel very protected, loved, cared for, and supported,” she says. But CaringBridge brought another community that has helped her thrive.

Balancing being a working mother of three, a wife, and a patient is exhausting. “If I didn’t have CaringBridge, I probably wouldn’t have the energy to reach out to as many people as want to know what’s going on. Now I can write, and if people overwhelmed or sad, they can deal with that and respond on their own time. If I don’t feel up to talking, I can read comments and thoughts later. It’s such a significant tool.”

A Positive Thinker

A glance at Kenon’s journal reveals she’s a wordsmith. These days, Kenon likes the word resolved—positively. “I’m resolved to do whatever I can to fight this to the point that it’s healthy for me and for my family,” she says. She received a six- to 18-month prognosis—20 months ago. The longest person recorded living with this diagnosis is four years. “I’m going for it,” she says. “Nothing is left unspoken or undone, which is pretty remarkable. Of course I don’t want to leave, and I love my kids. I love my job. I’m blown away at how good I feel in every way—except physically.”

Wealth Beyond Health

Kenon was voted the “healthiest girl” her freshman year in the dorm. She swam and ran and ate well. “I was the picture of health, and two years later I had Hodgkin’s,” she says. But instead of feeling angry, she had a realization: “We have an interesting culture of trying to fix every possible problem currently happening or that might happen and assigning some sort of reason and blame. I’ve been freed from the concept that there’s something we should be doing all the time to make sure our lives turn out a certain way. I do not discredit being a healthy person in the least, but there are theories about almost everything because people are terrified that we all get sick and die. Your life can’t be stolen by outside circumstances. Your life can only be stolen from internal perspective. Bitterness, projection, anger, disappointment: Those are the life-stealers.

“People would live a radically different way if we really got rid of fear. What if we just lived joyfully in the days that we’re given?”

Kenon notes that our culture sometimes puts the burden of blame or responsibility on someone suffering from an illness. Are there times you’ve observed this, and how can it be avoided? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

  • Charlotte Deneice Windham

    This is a great testimony. I wish you,Kenon,and your family the best in life,and pray for your continued health. God bless You, Charlotte

  • Rebecca Pennington

    Katie my name is Rebecca. I was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer 5 months ago at the age of 25. I was devastated, but have developed similar attitudes as you have also found through your own journey. People tell me I’m crazy when I tell them I’m happy that I have had to experience this journey. I am so thankful that I have been able to rediscovery the kindness and love that people in this world hold. I find joy in such little things these days, as I’m sure you do as well. The smell of flowers, the joy of waking up to sunshine shining in the bedroom window, time with family, hearing the birds sing, seeing children playing in the park, among many others. I am sorry to hear of your diagnosis, but am happy that you have been able to find such joy in your life and keep a positive attitude along the way. My goal currently and throughout my own journey is to inspire others through sharing my story and my positive thoughts. Thank you for that gift, you are an inspiration to others and will continue to be, I’m sure of it. Thoughts with you and your family, and keep on smiling, it makes all the difference. Much love.