Staying Sober Through a Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment: My Story

By Shauna Lane 07/26/19

Two incredibly painful paths have made my life better: a design for living from the program, and a new reverence for life from cancer. Both brought me closer to my higher power.

strong woman standing on a mountain
Each day is a new opportunity to live well. Photo by Yukie Emiko on Unsplash

Clean Sheets, Healthy Food, and a Loving Relationship

A little over nine years ago, I was working on my 3rd step when my sponsor asked me to share what it would look like if my life were restored to sanity. I said I would have fresh clean sheets, clean clothes, plenty of socks and underwear, food in the fridge, and a loving relationship. She said to me (and I remember this so clearly):

“You can have all that if you want it and God wants that for you.” Okay, the last part of the sentence is less clear, but it feels right — that God wants me to have clean sheets, clothes, healthy food, and a loving relationship. It seemed impossible to have any of that at the time, even being sober. I was a mess and still couldn’t shower regularly, wash my (small amount) of clothing consistently, and I was in no place to be in a relationship. I was barely six months sober and still detoxing. I certainly didn’t have any tools in place. 

A Design for Living and a New Reverence for Life

Today my life is so different and it happened just like the program says it will when people wish us a “long, slow recovery.” Slowly, as I worked the program, went to meetings, and did the steps, my life changed. The pain led me to surrender and then to a better life. And shockingly, as I make it to the other side of cancer and cancer treatment, I’m realizing that my life got better from cancer as well.

Two incredibly painful paths have made my life better: a design for living from the program, and a new reverence for life from cancer. Both brought me closer to my higher power. 

This morning I got up and did what I always do: I prayed and meditated, read from my books, and drank the coffee my sweet, patient partner makes for me every morning. I finished packing for my trip this weekend and took a shower, put on clean clothes, and got some healthy snacks together. I’m going to Iowa to be with my family for the funeral of my beautiful Aunt Jody, who passed away on Tuesday. She died from lung cancer after a short but courageous battle. She is at peace now, and I am grateful that I can be present and be of service to my family. 

My aunt’s passing from cancer hit me hard because I just finished cancer treatment five months ago. It’s terrifying that cancer took someone’s life in my family so quickly. Jody was a beautiful, bright, passionate, loving woman. Hopefully I can help lighten the load on my family a little. My mother always appreciates me making her laugh. I can’t imagine the grief she’s feeling after losing her baby sister.

Recovery, Comedy, and Cancer

As a breast cancer survivor, I had the opportunity recently to speak at The Pink Agendas 2019 Health & Wellness Educational Symposium at The Sheen Center for Culture & Thought in New York City. The organizers asked me to share my story and it was super challenging because of… me. It should have been a simple request: share my story. They said they knew I was a comedian and that they wanted to close the show with me to help lighten the mood of the evening. The event was a panel of doctors, nutritionists, and survivors; a fundraiser to help aid research for a breast cancer.

But this is what I heard: “Hi, we want you to share your story at our fundraiser, please sound like a doctor, and by the way the entire possibility of finding a cure for breast cancer lies on your shoulders. Please don’t hurt anyone’s feelings about their cancer and, also, you must look very, VERY professional and have a PowerPoint presentation as well. Good luck, we’re all counting on you.” I drove myself and my poor guy crazy getting ready for this. My sweet brother who has a PhD helped me to edit my speech but I could not memorize it. I memorize stuff all the time, but I couldn’t get this in my head. Finally, my sponsor said that she was pretty sure they just wanted me to speak from my heart. Then my partner told me to add some of my jokes that I use in my standup act about my cancer. 

So, I just got up there and did that. It was a little messy, but I spoke from my heart, told my story, and expressed my gratitude for the treatment I received and for fundraisers like this that help support the research to find the treatments. It was emotional, my aunt had just died from cancer and a dear friend was going in for breast cancer surgery the next morning.

I feel I have a responsibility as a cancer survivor now, to share my story and my hope. Similar to what we do in the program.

My aunt was a woman of grace and dignity and I aim to be half the woman she was. She always told me how proud she was of me for being sober (she also told me I needed to do sit-ups before I could find a husband!). Two hours after I landed in Iowa for her funeral, I went to a meeting. It was an open GBLT meeting and one of my sisters came with me. And they did what AA does all over the world, met me and my sister with open arms. They read The Promises at the end and I realized that the promises really are coming true for me. 

Surrender and Gratitude

I have a beautiful life. I am alive, and I made it through something that I never thought I could: cancer and cancer treatment, and I stayed sober. I have the program and all the people in it to thank for that. I was held up, I was loved, I didn’t have to do it alone. I surrendered to alcoholism and was finally able to get sober. I surrendered to cancer and was lucky enough to make it out alive. Hopefully I can remember each day that it is only one day at a time and that each day is a new opportunity to live well. 

If you had told me ten years ago that I would get sober and that my life would change in completely unexpected ways I wouldn’t have believed it. If you told me that I would also get cancer and after 14 months of treatment my life would improve two-fold I wouldn’t have believed you and I probably would have gotten drunk over it. 

I don’t share or talk about the program or my sobriety very much because it makes people uncomfortable and I try to honor the AA traditions. However, I can talk about breast cancer publicly and help raise awareness about the importance of early detection through screenings. So, I now have these two pillars helping to hold up my life now: sobriety and cancer. Here at The Fix I can express how much I need this program to survive and I don’t know how I could have gotten through cancer without it.

Someone said to me from a different fellowship that it was no surprise that God got me sober before I found out I had cancer. I am so profoundly grateful that he did. I have learned to trust my higher power on a much, much deeper level. Now, one day at a time I will continue to practice that 3rd step, put on clean socks (and maybe do some sit-ups).

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Shauna Lane is a comedian and actor based in New York City. You can follow her @laneshauna on instagram and see some of her work at