What is the will to live? How do some people faced with major life-threatening illnesses not only survive, but experience a profound deepening of their lives as a result. Oncologist Ernest Rosenbaum, M.D. asked his patients and colleagues about their own will to live and has brought their stories together in Inner Fire. The contributors speak for themselves in their own unique voices, and each story will touch you deeply. From the group of breast cancer survivors climbing one of the world's highest peaks , to facing cancer as a Buddhist spiritual practice, to surviving a Japanese POW camp during World War II, these stories will inspire everyone who reads them to make the most of the life they are living now.

Introduction by David Spiegel

Professor of Psychiatry, Stanford University, School of Medicine.

Plato said that courage is knowing when to be afraid. Within this book are stories of courageous people, who became very ill or faced some other crisis, yet counted--and count--themselves fortunate. In the face of a dismal diagnosis or harsh circumstances, they took stock of their resources and found strength and love.

Section 1 - To Climb A Mountain


When Laura Evans was told she had only a fifteen percent chance of surviving breast cancer, she chose to fight for her life in her own way. Two years later, she reached the summit of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro, and it was there that Laura came up with the idea for Expedition Inspiration.

Expedition Inspiration - Laura Evans

Laura Evans survived breast cancer with a bone-marrow transplant. She has so far climbed five of the eight major mountains in the world and led a team of breast cancer survivors in a successful climb of Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere.

Update: Laura Evans went on and founded Expedition Inspiration Fund for Breast Cancer Research and inspired the award winning movie, Expedition Inspiration

To Call Forth That Spark - Kathleen Grant, M.D.

In January 1995, I served as one of the team physicians for a group of women breast cancer survivors who climbed the 23,000-foot Aconcagua Peak in South America…



Section 2 - Unfinished Business


In his 1951 book, The Will to Live*, Arnold Hutschnecker, M.D. wrote: "If we truly wish to live, if we have the incentive to live, if we have something to live for --- then no matter how sick we may be, if we have not exhausted the last of our physical resources, we do not die.

Each Day Is a Miracle - Father Isaacs

I look back on my twenty-five years as a priest as very happy years. I would never change them. I've had wonderful experiences. I went to Peru for five months as a missionary and then went to the mountains at Lake Titicaca. I went to Curacao and Machu Picchu.

Arms Too Short to Box with God -  Val Staton

My career has been as a dancer at Finocchio's, a female-impersonator club in San Francisco. I've performed as Sophie Tucker, Marilyn Monroe, Dolly Parton, Mae West, Rita Hayworth, and Wynona Judd. I'm thirty-three years old now, and I have AIDS.

I Don't Have Time Not to Live - Carol Buck

When I was given my diagnosis that I had a possibly fatal malignancy and I had to take chemotherapy in order to live, it didn't change my style of life at all, except that I, of course, got tired. I pretty much knew even before I saw the doctor that I had breast cancer because of the physical signs: the shape of the breast and so on.

Section 3 - Putting on the Boxing Gloves


All people, not just the critically ill, face grave moments in their lives. We have all, at one time or another, been tempted to give up and not continue. During these tumultuous times, it's often easy to miss the opportunities for what could be very rewarding achievements.

A Broken Window Every Day - Maria Smith

I've had two extremely good fortunes. One was my husband, Donald, a remarkable man with whom I had a magical marriage. The other was my oncologist, without whom I would not have survived. Any other doctor would have looked at my prognosis and said, It's over!

Realize What's Important - Darrel Ansbacher

I think time is something man invented, and it really is in some ways one of our greatest inventions. In other ways it's the scariest. It gives you a beginning as well as an end.

A Tough Old Bird - Ruth Smith

Back in 1982 , when I was fifty-eight years old, I went to different doctors because my leg was bothering me, and I was unable to walk. It felt like a screw was going in. None of the doctors could find out what was wrong with me, and I was beginning to wonder if my pain was in my head.

I Live a Disease-Threatening Life - Rick Fields

When the doctor called to say that the biopsy had come back and that it was positive for cancer, my first reaction was that I felt like I was in the middle of one of those World War II movies where the Zeros are attacking the boat, the sirens are going off, and everybody is jumping out of their bunks and rushing on deck and all sorts of explosives are going off all over the place. (Update: From The New York Times)

Section 4 - The Power of Love: Family and Friends


Scientific research is finally helping us define the role psychological and social support can play in the treatment of illness. There is evidence that social connection -- having people to call on for help reduces the risk of dying from all causes.

A Cup of Breath - Ellie Bine

I usually hate cliches, but there is one I like: Forget what you did yesterday. Instead, think of what you can do tomorrow. That's what you have to do with an illness like mine -- put yesterday behind you and think about what you can do tomorrow to make yourself or someone else happy.

One in a Million - Connie Teevan

I had always thought of myself as a healthy person. I was forty-four years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. They found five lumps on a Friday; I was biopsied on Monday and had a mastectomy the following Friday. I knew it was serious because they were really pushing me along.

A Buddy and a Group - Jack D. Gordon, M.D.

When World War II broke out, I was a physician in a station hospital in the Philippine Islands. I had been called up from the reserves to active duty some six months earlier.

Still in the Ball Game - Edward Madison

On my Fiftieth Birthday, I really felt elated. I thought, Jesus Christ, you've reached half a hundred years. That's remarkable. I felt I should receive a citation, and I put signs all around the house saying, Happy Fiftieth Birthday.

Section 5 - A Positive Attitude


We have known for over 2,000 years - - from the writings of Plato and Galen-that there is a direct correlation between the mind, the body, and one's health.

To Have Ever Lived at All! - Diane Behar

From the moment I touched what felt like a flat piece of chewing gum almost floating on my right breast, I knew I had cancer. It was November of 1988. I was lying peacefully in bed recuperating from a bad bout of the flu when I unexpectedly came across a strange, foreign presence under my skin which I hoped would simply not be there the next day. But it was. And the day after that. And the day after that.

The Scent of an Orange - Jane Townsend

I THINK ALL OF US are born with a significant will to live that is very powerful. It's not easy to snuff out a life. Death usually comes after many years of living or at the hand of a powerful adversity of some kind. Over time and with experience, each will gets individualized and personalized, customized to who we are. We each have a strong willingness to either live or to die.

Live Life to the Fullest - Sam

The way I found out about my brain tumor is that I kept stuttering and losing my balance. Eventually I found it very difficult to express myself and began to feel like a mental vegetable. The dizzy spells persisted until one day I fell out of my wheelchair. I just didn't know what had come over me and had myself admitted to the hospital. After tests, they discovered I had cancer.

In Touch with My Dream - Alan J. Cooper, MD

After the initial shock of learning that I had cancer -- malignant melanoma -- and worrying through two recurrences, I concluded that the only quest in life that made any sense for me or gave me any sense of purpose was to get cured.

Recharging My Batteries - Joanna

In June of 1985, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had surgery, including reconstructive surgery, chemotherapy, and a short tamoxifen treatment. At that point, I was not worried. I knew the surgery had been done soon enough, and I was convinced that I was cured.

An Inner Fire - Susan Yoachum

I have metastatic breast cancer. Metastatic is a tough word to spell and an even harder one to say, but its meaning is rather simple.


The Will to Live - Ernest H. Rosenbaum, M.D. and Isadora R. Rosenbaum, MA

And so it is with this elusive feeling we call the will to live.

The will to live comes from hope but is nevertheless rooted in stark reality. The people in this book - - and thousands like them -- know that it is a difficult balancing act, to maintain a strong will to live in the face of debilitating treatment, excruciating pain, and sometimes persistent bad news.

But they chose to consider this constant reminder of our fragile mortality as a wake-up call that led them to reassess their values and to either confirm or change their way of life. Each of them nurtured old relationships and developed new ones; each lived life more fully while learning to live with illness. Each of them found hope.