New Beginnings: The Triumphs of 120 Cancer Survivors by Bill Aron

Bill Aron: New Beginnings: The Triumphs of 120 Cancer SurvivorsPhotographer, author and cancer survivor Bill Aron writes that cancer forces people to put their lives on hold, and his new book, New Beginnings: The Triumphs of 120 Cancer Survivors, explores the question of what happens during the silent phase after treatment ends.

In this essay by Bill Aron, he describes the origins and lessons of his inspiring book and shares his own lessons from a cancer diagnosis.

Aron can be contacted by email and a selection of his work can be seen on his web site,


I can’t control how long I live, but I can control how I live. Cancer taught me that.

When my doctor said, “you have cancer,” I heard “you are going to die.”

But what happened next totally surprised me.

I needed help, so I sought out a support group. At my first session, I was jolted to hear a man say, “Cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

It took a while, but eventually, hearing this opened up in me a kind of hope I had not thought possible. It made me want to create the kind of book I wished had existed when I was first diagnosed: a book that told enough stories so that I would identify with more than one.

A book with enough diagnoses and ages so that I would find more than one person like me.

A book with enough hope so that even I, a cynic at heart, would find inspiration.”

During the course of my treatment, I became my own advocate. One time, after I had quoted some research that contradicted my doctor’s advice, he angrily said, “Don’t be your own doctor.”

I ignored him and immersed myself in further research about new medicines and new techniques of radiation. I refocused my life, switched doctors, changed my diet, and reordered where my attention went and to whom. Cancer became–and many survivors concur — a catalyst for accepting my limitations, my mortality and my strengths.

I discovered that fear, pain and depression do not have to be lasting events, but can be viewed as passages to somewhere and something better. Cancer gave me the opportunity for a new beginning.

I was inspired. I knew that it would benefit so many others to learn that many with cancer do not consider themselves victims at all. Too often, the words, “You have cancer” are an ending instead of a beginning. In truth, I learned that there are amazing stories to be told of people for whom cancer became an impetus to change their lives for the better. Those stories could comfort thousands of people who thought they were alone. Those stories needed to be heard.

This notion was the kernel that became, NEW BEGINNINGS: The Triumphs of 120 Cancer Survivors (Skyhorse Publishing, 2015), which consists of interviews and photographic portraits of 120 survivors, ages 2 through 99. All together, the stories provide an uplifting message of hope and fortitude. It’s the very book I wished had existed when I was first diagnosed.

“Conquering cancer is really not about cure. It’s about living — living well for as long and as fully as one can.”

— The New York Times personal health columnist, Jane E. Brody, in her introduction to NEW BEGINNINGS

As I interviewed the survivors for NEW BEGINNINGS, I discovered an intriguing combination of fragility and inner strength. The experience of diagnosis and treatment had woken them up, and many were willing, even eager, to change their lives. Some changed careers, some reordered their priorities, some started families, while others simply reaffirmed that the path they had chosen was right for them. They changed in other ways as well, altering their diets and taking up exercise. They explored ways to give back to the “cancer community” by raising money, visiting treatment centers, founding survivor organizations, and reaching out to others who had been diagnosed. They believed they could make a difference. And just about everyone had a sense of Gratitude, an understanding that all is a gift that should not be wasted.

This journey, to write and photograph this book, strengthened me as I dealt with my own diagnosis. It was cathartic for me to talk with others about our cancer experiences. The people in the book all became my teachers, “angels” in my life. They taught me how to live, how to create a new normal, a new beginning. I feel truly blessed to have met each and every one of them.

I now consider how far I have come in my own thinking, from a man with a camera to a husband and father who cherishes every day of his life. I know I still have far to go, more photos to take, more individual stories to gather and tell. I can look forward because I did not give up.

Thanks to the lessons I learned from the 120 people in this book, I was able to begin anew. And through “NEW BEGINNINGS,” I hope that many others will find the support and inspiration they need and deserve, too.

In conclusion, the most important lesson I learned is that “If you can change how you feel about your life’s possibilities, then the world around you will change.” Learning to live after, and with cancer is a very different mindset – and many need help in figuring out how. That is the purpose of NEW BEGINNINGS: The Triumphs of 120 Cancer Survivors.