Grief and Gratitude


I think it was Theodore Geisel (aka Dr Seuss) who said “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

cartoon image of Suzanne Adriana Remington

Grief and gratefulness go hand in hand. We grieve the loss of relationships that we are grateful for, that have fulfilled us in different ways. That is why crying and smiling are a necessary dichotomy in the grief process. As usual, Dr. Suess got it right.

Grief is as much a part of cancer as nausea and fatigue. Except there are no medications to help, and it is never easy to just “push through” grief as you do with the unpleasant treatment side effects. I belong to a group of people fighting the same cancer as me. We share the same mutation that caused our non-small cell lung cancer. We are a group of mostly non-smokers, who had cells that mutated into cancer cells, driven by an “ALK” gene. That is why we call ourselves ALKies; our group is I value these people. We fund our own research; we know the latest treatments and trials; we’ve created different interest groups where we connect with each other, like an art club and a book club. We have a board; we’re incorporated. And the oncologists that regularly give talks are discussing the research they are conducting to rid us of our cancer. Clearly, it’s the group to belong to. But of course, the other side of that sword is that you become close to people with tenuous health. Losing the cancer battle is all too common; grief is all too common.

I just lost another one of my Alkie friends. She was gentle and humble. And courageous enough to express her fears about what comes next, after this life. In the tributes that have followed the news of her passing, ‘kind’ is the dominate word. She has left her mark.

Like everyone, I have had my share of grieving the loss of loved ones before my diagnosis. When I was twenty, I lost my good friend in a motorcycle accident. That hurt. Years later, I had a bigger hurt when I lost my grandmother. And then my father. And the list goes on. But the grief is different when I lose a fellow cancer-fighter. Especially those you formed friendships with, and had a front-row seat to their fight. You mourn the person, their legacy. But you are also scared. Scared you are looking at your future. Scared that a cure won’t be found. Then you feel selfish for those fears.

When this happens, I try to console myself that these emotions have to be normal. Then I turn to my faith, and hope that edges out these fears. And I take time to remember my friends and what they taught me. Each friend seems to come with a different lesson, and I value each one. I try to live their lessons, to keep a part of them alive.

And always, I allow myself the time to be sad and mourn.

I value all my Alkie friends, and continue to open my heart to these friendships in spite of any pain it may cause. Because the joy of knowing these fellow comrades far outweighs any sadness that might come. Grateful and grief, hand-in-hand.

In all his wisdom, Dr. Seuss did get one thing wrong: By telling us not to cry when something is over. Because sometimes, you have to cry your way to the smiles. But eventually the smiles will come. Smiles for the memories, for the lessons, for all of what that life meant to you. The trick is to realize what you are grateful for before you lose it. I am sure Dr. Seuss has a saying for that too.

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Image of Dr. Minesh Mehta at ASCO 2024.