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Practicing Gratitude While Gritting My Teeth

Gratitude helps get this cancer survivor through her cancer days, fears and worries.
PUBLISHED February 16, 2018
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at,or
I will never say I am grateful for either of my cancers—breast cancer or melanoma. Some good things did come to me through cancer, but the good does not outweigh the bad. Cancer is cancer. Sure, I met some wonderful people and I learned a lot in general and about myself. Still, cancer is cancer. To be healthy, physically and mentally, moving forward from cancer diagnosis, treatment and beyond, I choose to regularly and frequently practice gratitude.

Don’t blow this off. To say “practice gratitude” can sound trite and cliché. Some days, when I am worried or scared, I have to dig deep to get to gratitude. I don’t do it to be corny or trite. I practice gratitude to be healthy for myself and for my loved ones. Letting cancer win by eating away at me and making me bitter, grumpy or sad is not an option. Honestly, I have never ever been a glass-is-half-full human being. In the end, practicing gratitude is the only rational choice. I am serious.

Sometimes I make myself come up with three things about the day to be grateful for even while gritting my teeth, crying or chewing an antacid. Sometimes I put my ideas in my personal log (years ago I decided calling it a “journal” did not work for me). Sometimes I just silently list them in my head. 

I don’t take the easy route with this gratitude thing. To just pick family members or a family pet and be grateful for them is too easy. It doesn’t ease any of my sadness, fears or worries. My list needs to be very detailed and in the current day. If I pick the easy obvious stuff to be grateful for, then it just turns into a rote saying—a memorized thing that doesn’t even grab my own attention. I have to spend time thinking to find three very specific moments of the day that went right or at least were OK. 

I sometimes grumble about gratitude. Unfortunately, I can grumble about this all I want, but the truth is that it really helps me. It helps me in the moment, and I know you know about those moments, and it get me beyond the moment. Gratitude changes my focus, if only for a short time. Parents will redirect children from dangerous or disruptive activities. Well, I have to redirect myself, and that is part of what practicing gratitude does.

Maybe I have mentioned this before: A good friend once told me that sometimes everything is OK. She didn’t say “great.” She just said “OK.” Gratitude helps me learn to cope with living with the contrasts of life. Life can be good and bad at the same time. I guess that averages out to OK. I work on practicing balance in the dualities of life. Life is good and bad and light and dark, sometimes all in the same picture or moment.

To stay sane and hopefully to be a decent human being, I practice gratitude. Some days it is a stretch. Physical trainers tell us that physically stretching is good. Stretching is good mentally too. Some of us naturally bend better than others. I have never even been good at touching my toes! Still, even I can practice stretching, mentally and physically.

I need to stretch while I self-monitor, wait for procedures, labs, test results and follow-up visits. This is the life of a cancer survivor, and if I am more limber, I get through cancer and life with a better attitude and less pain. Isn’t that the goal?

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