3 Important Life Lessons I Learned From Surviving Stage 4 Cancer

by Barbara Vercruysse
Originally Published: 
Parentingupstream / Pixabay

It is Monday, April 7, 2003, at 9 a.m., and I’m in the office of my construction business. My son is with me. He is 10 weeks old, and I am still breastfeeding him. My two girls, one who is almost 4 and one who is 2 1/2, are in kindergarten.

I get a phone call from the surgeon who cut away a little black spot on my knee the week before. At first, I don’t remember who he is. I only saw him for 15 minutes.

He sounds very serious and wants me to come to the hospital immediately because the test results are very bad, and he wants my husband to join me. Initially, I don’t believe him. This sounds surreal and I have no time for this in my life. My life was running the way I thought it was supposed to be: building a company, married to the love of my life, and mom of two toddlers and a baby.

The doctor insists so hard that two hours later, my husband, my son, and I are sitting in front of Dr. Vandeputte to hear the horrible news that I have skin cancer — and that the first results show that it is in an advanced state already. He wants me to stay in the hospital to take more tests and plan the first surgery ASAP.

The rest is history. The doctors were convinced that I wouldn’t survive 2003, and yet here I am! I have been given a second life, a chance to reincarnate within a single lifetime, and I did. I took this second chance with both hands because spending so much time in the hospital surely makes you think about your legacy.

And although I hadn’t lived the most common life, I was surely on my way to live the traditional life of being born, study, work, kids, work more, and die.

This earthquake, this complete and heavy shock, this physical struggle during 11 months of chemotherapy, shifted my perspective on our time here on earth drastically.

Barbara Vercruysse

Picture shortly after my recovery in 2004

1. Human connection is everything.

While lying in my hospital bed, I realized that it didn’t matter if I lived at that moment in a mansion or a hut. The only thing that mattered was the support of the people around me.

Human connection is where the magic happens. There is nothing more valuable than a kind and compassionate attitude towards every single person during your day, whether at home, at work, or with friends. It is in the connection that the real mystery of life lies. There are no other species on this planet with this ability to connect in such a profound way.

I lost a certain interest in making the construction business that I was running into the big company that I dreamed of when I started, and focused a lot more on people and how valuable each one of us is. There was a growing urge to bring more love and compassion into this world after having almost lost my life.

Although it wasn’t very clear in the beginning, surviving cancer was the start of a quest to a more meaningful life and how I could support others to a fulfilled life.

2. Human life is precious. Every life is precious.

After my recovery, life seemed so much more colorful. I knew we were not born just to survive but to live and taste life at its fullest. And even after the cancer, life didn’t spare me particularly but I learned to focus on the magic in everyday life: Taking the time to look at a beautiful sunset, enjoying dinner with my husband and kids (even if kids are quarreling — this is life, and life is messy, uncontrollable, and unpredictable), prioritizing an evening walk, and having this underlying feeling of deep gratitude for being alive and still being here to experience it all.

And am I ecstatic all of the time? Of course not.

But deep down, something had changed. I was connected with my inner self and looked with more and more amazement to certain beliefs and standards in our society.

How did we come to believe that life was dull, routine, and hard? Why had we made ourselves prisoners of the belief that success and fulfillment equals tons of money? Why have we created a life based so much on the mind, and did we lose our heart on the way?

We are here to experience how precious we are, how amazing human life is with all its contrasts. And it all starts from our heart, being kind towards yourself and putting love in everything you do. I live every day with the deep realization that tomorrow I might not wake up, and I always look back on my day at night, asking myself: Did I love enough? Did I make the best of every situation today? Can I let go of what is beyond my control?

3. Everyone can make a positive impact on the world.

With the years passing, a deeper calling was speaking louder and louder to make a positive impact in this lifetime.

And those things don’t happen overnight. It has been 13 years now, years of searching, taking steps, falling, getting up again, molding ideas, getting clear on my purpose, finding more and more courage to speak with my true voice.

But there is one thing for sure: I want to make this 90-year passage on earth one where I brought more love and compassion into this world, where I lived a life that is more than fulfilling my little pleasures and having some comfort.

Empowering others to see how valuable they are, how everyone can make a positive impact with his own gifts, is my purpose. And there is one other issue very close to my heart and that is giving women a voice in countries where their voice is not valued yet. I’m starting up a project in collaboration with a sewing school in India.

All of this drives me so passionately that life has never been more meaningful. But without facing death so closely, I am sure I would never have become the woman that I am today.

Barbara Vercruysse

Last year in Italy – So happy to be still around

This article was originally published on