Cancer Survivor Gratitude: What Other Choice Is There?

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Two-time survivor discusses gratitude to cope with her cancer and her life.

I am not grateful for my cancers. They weren’t special presents or gifts that I got. Lucky me? No. I didn’t choose a cancer “journey.” I didn’t ask for cancer as an opportunity for personal growth.

One of the important and healthful ways that I live as the survivor of two different cancers is to actively practice gratitude every day.

I don’t choose to practice gratitude because I am a good sport. I am not a good sport. And, I don’t practice gratitude because I am naturally cheerful. I am not. I also don’t practice gratitude because I am an optimistic “glass is half full” sort of person. Not me. I practice gratitude because, in the uncertain world of cancer, it is the only sane choice.

Practicing gratitude makes me seek out the good in each day. I do this everyday. I don’t always keep a “gratitude journal” as suggested by Sarah Ban Breathnach in her book “Simple Abundance” (good book, by the way). I simply make myself come up with three specific things I am grateful for before the end of the day. I make them specific to the day. That means “I love my husband” is too general, but “I am grateful my husband made a nice fire tonight” is perfect. It would be a boring platitude if I just reinvented the same wheels every day about my loving spouse and children.

Being specific each day in what I choose to be grateful about actually makes me have to think hard and to focus on what exactly I am grateful for. If I am vague and general, then my gratitude exercise loses any meaning.

“Do the work, Barb. Don’t take the easy route,” I tell myself. Just like physical exercise, if I don’t really stretch my gratitude muscle, it won’t — I won’t — get any stronger.

Practicing gratitude helps me keep my sanity and build resiliency. Now we are talking. Resiliency is good stuff. I don’t come by much of it naturally. I would rather be a control freak, a decision-maker in charge of my own destiny. A cancer survivor finds themselves at the whim of lab results and follow-up visits and “scanxiety.” This is why I practice gratitude. I need the skill of changing my focus and looking at what is good instead of what is bad, so that I have the resiliency to move forward.

A dear fellow survivor shared a quote from someone she knew. I wrote it out and put it above my desk. I would read it with tears in my eyes after sleepless nights before and after chemotherapy. The quote says, “Always pull yourself forward.”

After all, what other sane choice do we have? Life is good. God is good. Practice gratitude so you can pull yourself forward. Now, how do you do that?