Sara Quiriconi is redefining what it means to live “cancer-free.”
Written by Taylor Novak
Photography by Sylvain Von K
To Sara Quiriconi, the phrase “cancer-free” is a bit perplexing. The decades-long cancer warrior was diagnosed at only 19 years old with Hodgkin lymphoma. While most of her peers were deciding which college party to attend that weekend, Quiriconi was determining what route of treatment could save her life. Eventually, Quiriconi’s cancer was no longer detectable and she was declared cancer-free—but the term felt ambiguous and ill-defined to her.
“I remember going to one of my scans, and they had told me, ‘You are free of cancer.’ It’s like, OK, great. What does that mean?” she says. Even years after her diagnosis, Quiriconi still wonders every day if cancer will return to her body. What does it mean, she asked herself, to live free of cancer?
Quiriconi, also known by the moniker Live Free Warrior, embodies that question in her autobiography, ‘Living Cancer Free: A Warrior’s Fall and Rise Through Food, Addiction and Cancer.” The actress, model and holder of many other titles details her perspective on “the big C” not being “cancer,” but being “choice.” It took some time to get there, though.
“It’s been a lifelong journey,” Quiriconi admits. With no definitive answer from doctors as to what had led to her Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, she could feel the reins of control on life start to slip. Even post-cancer, the disillusion remained. Quiriconi dealt for years with alcoholism, an eating disorder and low self-worth.
She had healed physically from lymphoma, but her thoughts remained the same, she says.
“I wasn’t changing the thoughts I was telling myself,” Quiriconi says. “I’m telling myself, ‘I’m not feeling any better.’ But I wasn’t changing any of my patterns. I had only eradicated one of the cancers, which was the outcome—not exactly the cause.”
Quiriconi’s lymphoma was “one of the cancers.” The others? Her addiction, unhealthy relationship with food and low self-esteem. It’s unique to hear these struggles described as “cancers,” but this approach has allowed Quiriconi to categorize the hard times in her life as wake-up calls.
“In moments like these, we have a choice. The question is, do we choose to make a change? Or do we stay stagnant?”
“At some point, we all feel stuck and we don’t know what to do,” she says. “Part of it is because we’re allowing those limiting beliefs or thoughts or habits—the ‘cancers’—to really seep into what could be healthier, more thriving areas of our life. Every day is a work in progress for myself to say, ‘What am I thinking? Do I need to change this? How can I change this?’ And then reflecting back on it.”
One outlet that encouraged Quiriconi to choose a healthier way of life was fitness. She’d grown up involved in sports and athletics, and while the activities themselves fluctuated over the years, the overall concept remained the same: it was a means to better herself.
“It has expanded into fitness of the mind,” she says. “It’s meditation, it’s breathing exercises, all different forms of fitness.”
Connecting with her body—whether physically or mentally—has opened the door for Quiriconi to revel in her intuition, which she says makes all the difference. It’s the key to living free.
For years, Quiriconi was a cog in the corporate marketing machine. A former art director, she was laid off during the recession. This pivotal moment allowed for a rare moment of introspection. Through her arduous job searching alongside a growing personal interest in holistic health and yoga, Quiriconi felt she was being set up to make a necessary choice—with a capital C.
“In moments like these, we have a choice. The question is, do we choose to make a change? Or do we stay stagnant?” she says.
Quiriconi sacrificed stability and exited the corporate world. She became a yoga teacher, traveling between Boston and Miami to lead classes. This course eventually led her to other creative opportunities, from modeling to acting.
And it was all because she had chosen to become acquainted with her intuition.
“Question, especially in moments where you are very vulnerable—particularly when you’re going through cancer and treatment,” she shares. “Everyone has opinions. But nobody knows you more than you know yourself. And they’re not in your position.”
During your cancer journey, Quiriconi says, check in with yourself. Listen to the authentic you. Gain self-awareness. Get second opinions on diagnoses or treatments. Engage in self-care as a radical and disruptive act. Make the choice to live free.
“I think being selfish is great,” she adds. “Take care of yourself first—if you can’t do that, then you’re not going to be able to care for anybody else. It’s your journey—your life journey. Nobody else is going to be living it in 10 or 30 years from now. Make sure that you’re taking a route that is ultimately best suited for yourself.”
Living free amid the noise of a cancer journey and everyday life is not always the easiest task. There can be a lot of weight carried in the word “free” when it comes to the way you approach living, but that’s where your intuition comes into play, according to Quiriconi.
“We can be in fear of cancer as the ‘big C,’ or we can see the ‘big C’ as an empowered choice.”
“Create what free means to you,” Quiriconi advises. “Decide what you want to change and how you can go about that. There’s a lot of things we can change—we all know things we could be doing to be healthier for our brain. Make the sacrifice, and that’s your better path of living. Otherwise, you’re not living from a space that is intuitive to you.”
A morning routine is essential for Quiriconi. As someone who is constantly traveling, working on creative projects and trying to maintain a fraction of peace in life, Quiriconi’s morning routine keeps her in check.
As the world wakes up, Quiriconi begins her day with a 10-minute meditation and a personal mantra (What am I doing presently? What am I doing to help or inspire the world? What am I getting back to use further?) that she sets for herself. Two limes with water is her hydration of choice (paired with coffee, of course). She makes sure she stretches in one way or another, even if it’s walking through an airport to catch a flight to her next gig.
“Having elements of this every morning sets me up for the day,” Quiriconi says.
Her morning routine serves as the perfect example in her “Choice” theory that the decisions you make toward wellness don’t always have to be grand gestures that instantaneously alter the course of your life. A choice to better your quality of life can be as simple and accessible as incorporating meditating, breathing exercises, a vegetable or a short stroll into your daily routine.
“Start small, and it’ll train your brain that you can change and you’re committing to yourself,” Quiriconi says.
These exercises in well-being are crucial to Quiriconi, who believes the real currency or wealth of life is your general health—physical, mental and financial. Somebody could still be a miserable millionaire or a finicky fitness expert. But real joy, to Quiriconi, is a well-rounded balance across all areas of your life, in whatever way makes sense for you and your situation.
This is part of the reason Quiriconi left the corporate world all those years ago. After years of discontentment and struggling, she wants to help others in similar situations.
“It would be selfish to have learned some of the life lessons I did and not share them,” Quiriconi says. “I had no idea who I was, and I think that’s part of the process still revealing itself today. It’s incredible, because there is no finite edge. I can continue to evolve. Cancer has given me the gift of going for something and not settling for anything less than what I’m capable of.”
Quiriconi’s cancer journey taught her to pace herself, but to simultaneously not let life pass by. That’s ultimately why she wanted to be a storyteller—to inspire others to live their best life, without regret. While we cannot always decide the cards we are dealt, we can always choose how we play our hand.
“We can be in fear of cancer as the ‘big C,’ or we can see the ‘big C’ as an empowered choice,” Quiriconi says. “The more you can take back your own power and make choices and be active within your own cancer journey, the more empowered you will be.”
Taylor is currently the senior editor at Cancer Wellness Magazine. With a demonstrated background in the creative and health & wellness industries, they enjoy seeking out narratives of perseverance and empowerment to bring to the page in an engaging, thoughtful manner. Taylor is especially interested in writing about physical and mental wellbeing, the environment, social identity and pop culture.