Gratitude: A Greater Understanding of Cancer's Impact on Who I Am


Apreciating all the positives amongst the disease of cancer

Thank you are two words that are not often spoken in direct reference to cancer. We say it to nurses, doctors, caregivers, family and friends that support us, but it isn’t a phrase that we say to cancer. No, I am obviously not grateful for everything that cancer has done and changed. That is not to say that zero gratitude exists. Despite all the bad, I still want to say a “thank you” to cancer. Through everything, I can now see the chain reaction that cancer initially began, that has changed my life for the better.

I’m not sure that people reading this are going to agree because everyone’s experience with cancer is different. To be honest, I think my sister would say very differently than me on this matter. The truth is, when I take all that cancer meant in my life in, I’m grateful. It’s through its occurrence that I met my fiancé, and that I have countless supporters and friends who cheer me on in all that I do. I write for CURE, volunteer with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and I’m a nursing student because of cancer.

I have learned so much about compassion, the caring nature of humanity and the kindness of the human soul. I have practiced empathy and seen unimaginable things through cancer. I have been given absolutely insane possibilities that I never dreamt possible before that July day when my sister was diagnosed. I’ve met incredible people that are true warriors, who touched my heart in so many ways.

I have learned things through cancer that have applied to multiple areas in my life. I have learned to research and have become educated in a field that I knew nothing about. I discovered a passion deep within myself that I never knew existed. I have been shown that science is ever-changing and medicine it always improving. Through what I have witnessed with not just my sister, but other patients too, that there can always be hope even in the face of so much darkness.

Long before I chose the field of oncology, cancer made me practice communication skills and tested my patience. I saw a whole other side to the medical field that I had often been exposed to in my life, but never in such a raw and in-depth manner as cancer did. I saw the enduring strength and commitment of nurses, medical technicians and doctors. All in a jointed effort to treat, palliate and cure every patient that they met.

Cancer introduced me to a community of generous people that give their time to others, others who are at such critical points in their lives and simply are looking for any sort of guidance. These people, they walked my sister and my family through so much of her cancer journey so that we never had to do it alone. I am so proud to be a part of that vast community now and to be able to pay it forward to those who are shell-shocked — just as I was once.

Cancer made clear that no matter how badly you want things in life, some things really are out of our control. We can give it our all, but through no fault of our own, it isn’t always enough. In the face of so much uncertainty, cancer showed me that sometimes there isn’t that second chance. That opportunity to do things again that we expect as humans, it doesn’t always exist. It is because of that lesson that I live my life as I do now.

In the many lessons that I have learned because of cancer- uncertainty is a big one. So, although my sister is in remission, I know that may not always be the case. As I have faced loss and triumph through cancer, I also have learned that I am stronger than I once thought I was. That even in the hardest of times, I know that we did this once before. So it is because of cancer that I am confident we can beat it once again.

That it may have taken two-and-a-half grueling years, but it was done. It may come in another way, through another name or maybe just the same as it did before. None of that matters to me, because was does is that I am not afraid anymore. Sure, I have doubts and I worry about what the future holds. But I am not scared.

Cancer challenged everything about me. Who I was, what I thought I could handle, my knowledge, my values and what I thought the future held for me. So, thank you cancer for all the lessons that I have learned, how much you have changed my life and for making me who I am today.

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