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This Thanksgiving, I Am Thankful for Cancer

One survivor accepts her nontraditional meal this year and embraces cancer’s lessons.
PUBLISHED November 28, 2019
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
The holidays are among us, and I feel very unprepared. Things seem so different since cancer came into our lives.

In years past, I'd begin planning for Thanksgiving months in advance. Writing out the menu, shopping for food, putting up decorations were all parts of our family tradition. It was a grand gesture that always paid off, but for the past few years, it’s been difficult to focus on planning a big meal. In fact, it’s been such a challenge, one of my daughters has stepped up to help. For the past two years, she’s been gracious enough to host the meal in her home. It's been a huge blessing and has taken the pressure off me. But this year, she isn’t able to host and I’ll be forced to pick up the baton again. The thought has made me nervous.

The stress and anxiety over planning for the festivities has been overwhelming. There’s no tangible reason for my feelings, but I believe the underlying factor to be an invisible foe — post cancer post-traumatic stress.

The problem has been so apparent that my sweet husband stepped in to help. "This year," he said, "I don't want you to have to cook or worry about anything. I'm going to take care of it." I was shocked by his statement and wondered what he was planning. Two days ago, I found out. 

Unbeknownst to me, he stopped by the local Honey Baked Ham store after work. Arms loaded with packages, he entered the kitchen and spread his wares across the counter. "I picked up some sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, a green bean casserole, cornbread dressing, a ham and even some sliced apples," he said. I watched his face as he beamed waiting for my approval.

Taken aback at the thought of serving our guests frozen food for the holiday, I imagined my mother turning over in her grave. As a southern girl, who’s always cooked from scratch, taking such a shortcut would be just short of sacrilege. But I didn't dare utter a word. My husband had offered a gift of love. He’d done what he could to take a burden from my shoulders and I was definitely thankful.

“Would it really be so bad to have pre-prepared food for one meal?” I thought. In my head, I justified his plan, and accepted it as a broad smile spread across my face. 

Praising my husband, I watched as his shoulders went back and his chest puffed with pride.

It took a while to realize the magnitude of his gift, but after considering the fact that I’d be able to prepare the meal much faster than normal, I also realized I’d be able to spend more time visiting.

A lot has changed since my cancer diagnosis, especially relating to the holidays. I've learned it’s OK to make concessions like having frozen food for Thanksgiving. And some of my “pink sisters” go out to eat on Thanksgiving Day.

Cancer has taught me to focus on what really matters and that includes the fact that I'm still alive. For that, I am extremely grateful.

It’s a joy to be able to celebrate the holidays with loved ones. This year, as we enjoy our unconventional meal, we’ll also make a point of remembering those we’ve lost to cancer.

Cancer takes the blame for so much pain in many lives, but rarely does it receive accolades for anything good. When I was first diagnosed, I felt the same way. I hated cancer and all the negativity it brought into my life — both physically and emotionally. But over the past five years, it has taught me much about gratitude. One of the most important lessons learned is that gratitude should be an art practiced daily.  

This year, as we give thanks, I will include cancer among my list of blessings and mean it. Without cancer, I’d still be taking many things for granted like the fact that I’d be able to prepare a delicious homecooked meal for my family.
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