Yes I Survived Cancer, But That Doesn’t Define Me

Cindy Tinker Hancock, a social worker with the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center, outlines the resources and support available for people who have been diagnosed with cancer. We also talk about how having cancer does not have to control every aspect of a person's life.

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Rosemary Cope: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Rosemary Cope with Work/Life Connections. I am here today with Cindy Tinker Hancock, who is a social worker with the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center. She has her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Tennessee. She also spent a year on a rotary international scholarship at James Cook University in Australia studying social work as a Foundation Scholar. Her passion is helping people get the services they need and linking them with resources to enrich their lives. Cindy works at Vanderbilt with adult cancer patients and their families. Today, we are talking about a topic that may feel scary to many of us, which is - what does it mean to live with a cancer diagnosis without it controlling every aspect of our lives? Cindy, would you highlight Vanderbilt support services available to people who have been diagnosed with cancer?

Cindy Tinker Hancock: Sure. We've got a broad continuum of services in the cancer clinic as well as in the community for patients and their families - at the time of diagnosis, in the midst of treatment, being cancer-free, end-of-life, the whole gamut. We have a resource room in the cancer clinic lobby where you can get all kinds of information in regard to diagnosis, treatment, treatment options, nutrition, support services, individual counseling services and resources, and all kinds of resources that are in the community. We also have a psycho-oncology team now available in the cancer clinic for patients to meet with a clinical psychiatrist, a nurse practitioner, as well as a licensed clinical social worker, and then I am also available for some counseling support and resources. So, even beyond that, we have all kinds of resources that are available to folks in the community, which you can call me here in the cancer clinic at my number that I can give to you later, as well as through the American Cancer Society and calling their 1-800 number.

Rosemary Cope: A cancer diagnosis can affect radical changes in people's lives. Please help us understand - how would one, not just survive, but thrive? Do I need to be defined as a cancer patient?

Cindy Tinker Hancock: That is a really good question, Rosemary. In terms of getting that diagnosis, it is devastating. It is scary. It is unending. It is nerve-racking. It is all that stuff. It doesn't have to define who you are, and what I say to folks who have just gotten this diagnosis after maybe many months of being treated for something else and then come to find out they have a cancer diagnosis, or whatever their experience has been, it is as though you have had the power shut out, and you can't see your hand in front of your face ... and it's dark, and it's scary, and it's intimidating, and it's all of that ugly stuff. I say to folks - you are trying to figure out how do I take the next step in this? You have given me this diagnosis and now I am hearing this "cancer clinic" and I am going to get chemo and radiation. What do you mean I am going to be getting all this, and I am going to have these side effects, or these things may or may not happen ... a lot of unknowns. So, you are not only trying to get your head and your heart wrapped around the fact that you have been given this diagnosis and you are going to have to go through treatment, and how am I financially going to survive through this. It is as though, not only did they shut out the power and didn't ask your permission, but also, they rearranged the furniture and didn't ask your permission, and you are running into it. And you can say it sucks here in the south. You can say it hurts. It is intimidating. It is overwhelming. It is all those things. But it also brings you to that place of realizing - you know what, I am really not calling the shots here in my life like I thought I was. It is a show-stopper. It is a life-changer. But it does not define, or it does not have to define, who you are as a wife, as a husband, as a mother, as a father, as a son, as a daughter, as a spouse, whatever that is for you. It is up to you as to - are you going to make that choice to figure out, okay, what resources and support do I need to figure this out? What does my support system look like? Is this going to make me or break me? Is this going to make or break my family, my friends, stronger than before, than what I was before? What is your faith like? What is your community support like? What does that look like for you? And everybody's life circumstances and life story is different. And it is your choice as to - am I going to seclude myself, or am I going to open myself up to allowing other people to come into my life to walk with me in this, because we were not made to do life by ourselves. We are not an island unto ourselves, left to our own defenses, to figure it out. We need people. And there are some folks that are very strong and determined and, "I can do this!" Yes, you can, BUT you are going to need the help of others, be it family, friends, your spouses, whatever, to walk with you in the midst of this. You come into a doctor's appointment and all of that information is so overwhelming and intimidating. There is no way you can remember it all. You are just trying to still process what has been told to you. So, to have somebody else with you, be it friends, spouse, whoever, family, and to be sure that they are hearing the same information that you are ... having somebody else to be the note-taker, paying attention to medications, treatment schedules, transportation, finances. Do I need to apply for Disability or SSI? How do I even go about doing that? What do I do with the fact that my insurance may end, may terminate, and I might lose my job ... all of these things that you can't do on your own, but there are resources and people in the community that can advise you and help you with that.

Rosemary Cope: If one of our listeners would like to contact you or someone in the cancer center, what is the number and website, please?

Cindy Tinker Hancock: They can call me directly at (615) 322-7459. That is (615) 322-7459. If I don't answer, leave me a message and I will call you back, or my email address is The Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer website address is

Rosemary Cope: Cindy, thank you so much for your time today. I appreciate that information and we look forward to exploring your website and contacting those resources for support for ourselves or a loved one. Thank you for listening. Please feel free to leave us any comments on this Wellcast by clicking the "Add New Comment" link at the bottom of this page. If you have a story or a suggestion, please email it to us at, or you can use the "Contact Us" link on our website at