November 12, 2023

What Quotes or Scriptures Help In Tough Times?


When  I was 27 years old, I sat on a pleather exam table and had a doctor two years older than me tell me I had cancer.  Everything in my life changed.  But, this is actually not why I called my book Everything Changes.

During cancer treatment, many patients rack up hours sitting on their toilets.  I kept a big stack of reading material next to mine.  I would open to random pages in the Tao de Ching, a Chinese philosophy book written in the 6th century BC.  One day in the midst of wishing my life were different, that my body aches would subside, that I would not be single on a Saturday night sitting on the toilet with cancer – I opened to a random page in the Tao de Ching and pointed to the words ‘Everything Changes’.  And it is true.  I’m now married. I still have cancer but I rarely have body aches.  And I spend much less time in the bathroom.

The mantra ‘Everything Changes’ gets me through the hardest moments of living with cancer.  No matter what any of us are experiencing right now, a basic truth is that everything changes.  It is great to know that I won’t stay stuck anywhere forever.

I’m not naive.  I know change could lead me down hill instead of up.  But that’s just reality.  I don’t need magical thinking to get me through tough times.  I just need a bit of truth that keeps me moving forward.  Everything changes.    That’s real.  That’s something I can count on.  And in desperate times, having something to count on is my definition of hope.

I loved talking to Tracy, a breast cancer patient in Alabama who I interviewed for my book.  Before each treatment, she sat in the parking lot and read Psalm 23.  Do you have a favorite quote, phrase, scripture, or mantra that gets you through hard cancer times?

Check out Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s to learn more about Tracy and how she coped with treatment related fear and depression.

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  1. Chrysalis Says:
    November 12th, 2009 at 6:40 AM

    John 11:4, Romans 8:28, Isaiah 57:1.

  2. Cathy Bueti Says:
    November 12th, 2009 at 7:05 AM

    For me it is the Serenity Prayer…”God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”

    There is also a quote I used in my book by Ralph Waldo Emerson that helps me…”What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

    These words have helped me get through many tough times…

  3. Pat Steer (Gaelen) Says:
    November 12th, 2009 at 8:14 AM

    The quote that still moves me, drives me and re-centers me is the one I usually put into signatures on forums, a Chinese Moon Festival wish: “Be in harmony with your expectations.”

  4. Kate Says:
    November 12th, 2009 at 12:14 PM

    This one helps me, and it’s in Latin no less.
    Dum Spiro Spero which means
    While I breathe, I hope

    It makes a good mantra and if you can coach yourself to breathe each time you say it all the better.

  5. charissa Says:
    November 12th, 2009 at 4:15 PM

    Nothing too profound really, or at least not to anyone else.

    But the one and only time I tried to talk to my husband about the possibility of his passing, while undergoing treatment for hodgkins lymphoma, he stopped me before I could even SAY the words “what if you die?”. He put his hand on my face and said “No matter what, we’ll be ok.” and that was the end of the conversation, because I KNEW he was right. I tell myself that every single day- both before his death and in these 8 months after.

  6. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    November 12th, 2009 at 4:39 PM

    When I read Charissa’s comment, it reminded me of my second date with my now husband. When I told him that I was living with cancer, I expected the same freaked out reaction that most men gave me. Instead he said, “That’s ok. We’ll deal with it together.” Whether it is cancer or other hard times we are facing, it is so true, he and I deal with it together. “No matter what, we’ll be okay” and “We’ll deal with it together,” might not be phrases ripe for a greeting card or mug, but they are rock solid phrases that provide a hell of a lot of strength.

  7. anonymous Says:
    November 12th, 2009 at 8:33 PM

    “You may only be someone in the world, but to someone else, you may be the world.”

    “Don’t be a know-it-all unless you know it all.” - Useful saying when annoying people take it upon themselves to give you a whole lot of advice when they don’t have a clue

  8. Wendy S. Harpham, MD Says:
    November 12th, 2009 at 9:09 PM

    While there’s life, there’s hope. (Cicero, Roman orator)

    While there’s hope, there’s life. (me, as far as I know)

    The best I can do is the best I can do
    (and the best is good enough). (me, again, as far as I know)

    This is the day the Lord has made.
    We shall rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

    With hope, Wendy

  9. brigita Says:
    November 12th, 2009 at 9:57 PM

    * When you’re going through hell KEEP GOING.
    * Failure is not an option.
    * Om Shva Ha. A manta I picked up in a yoga class meaning “I surrender.”

  10. Maureen Says:
    November 12th, 2009 at 11:28 PM

    I keep a copy of the Desiderata above my desk at work. I especially like this section:
    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

  11. Lori Hope Says:
    November 13th, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    Great post - and photo.

    One of my mantras throughout my cancer journey (or “bad trip” as we used to say…) was and still sometimes is, “Breathe in love, breathe out fear.”

    And, now, seven years later, when I meditate to calm myself, I often use the words of Thich Nhat Hanh: “Breathing in, I calm myself. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.” It’s easier, of course, when it’s a pleasant moment…

    Interesting about “Everything Changes” - I have said that to others, in the form of “Everything changes - everything good and everything bad.”


  12. frank Says:
    November 13th, 2009 at 12:32 PM

    I’ve always liked Thomas Edison’s quote about how relentless he was inventing the lightbulb, “I have not failed, I’ve merely found 10,000 ways that do not work.” Failure is always an option; it’s going to happen at some point. However, it’s not a true failure if you get back up try again.

  13. Lisa Daria Says:
    November 21st, 2009 at 8:31 PM

    I kept repeating,

    “When in doubt twirl,” by Ted Shawn, there was something about the idea of dancers not knowing what to do next and them just twirling, that made sense at the time of my cancer treatments . . . not that I could physically twirl, good god no, but the idea. . .

    The other, is from Hitchiker’s Guide’
    “Don’t Panic,”

    Okay, not the most profound, but I would state it over and over in my head during that time (which, by the way is seven years ago - today marking my last chemo date!!!)

  14. Kairol Rosenthal Says:
    November 22nd, 2009 at 3:14 PM

    Lisa - As a modern dancer I love that a Ted Shawn quote got you through! Congrats on seven years out from chemo. May you never have to twirl in that world again. Kairol

  15. Leslie Says:
    November 25th, 2009 at 5:02 PM

    This quote helped me get through the year of colorectal cancer treatments (stage 4) and continues to do so in this surveillance phase. i keep it right on my desk at work. I love how applicable it is to so much that can show up real or imagined.

    “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin

  16. Tin Says:
    December 16th, 2009 at 1:57 PM

    I like to think of these two:
    Tough times dont last, but tough people do (dont know the author);
    Life is a struggle, life is a beautiful struggle (T. Kweli)

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