Is It Possible to Be Thankful for Cancer?


Being thankful for cancer seems like an odd concept to grasp.

image of Bonnie Annis

How could anyone be thankful for a devastating, life-altering disease? Though challenging and inconceivable, it is possible. Learn about how I managed to find thankfulness through her cancer experience.

Recently, I was asked how I was doing in a conversation with a close friend. She knew I’d had many health issues over the past years and was genuinely concerned about me.

“I’m doing great,” I said with enthusiasm. The look on her face made me smile. I could tell she was not expecting that answer and wanted an explanation. I continued by saying, “ I’ve finally learned to be grateful for cancer.” Those words, I could tell, threw her for a loop.

As we continued our conversation, I told her how cancer had taught me so many valuable lessons. To help her better understand, I gave a few examples. One of the first things I learned from cancer was that my tomorrows aren’t promised. I used to go to bed at night assuming I’d wake up the next day. After cancer, I wasn’t so sure a tomorrow would come. Each night I’d pray, asking God to please give me another day and in the morning, when I woke, I would thank Him for one more opportunity to enjoy a sunrise, see my grandchildren smile and breathe in the fresh air.

Another lesson I learned was not to take friends or family for granted. So many people stood by me as I was in active treatment for cancer. Their love and support helped sustain me each day. Before cancer, I often took them for granted assuming they’d be around if I needed them. But my true friends and most dedicated family never failed to show up during the most challenging days of my cancer journey.

I also learned not to take my health for granted. Most days, I felt good and could do whatever I wanted. After cancer, there were many days I was exhausted and unable to perform simple tasks. It was during those times I’d find myself becoming depressed or feeling sorry for myself, but as I continued to fight, my resolve strengthened. I came up with a mantra gleaned from the children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could.” Whenever I found myself struggling, I’d quote a line from that book, “ I think I can, I think I can.” Positive self-talk helped me make it through hard days.

As Thanksgiving approaches this year, I can truly say I’m thankful cancer came into my life. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been a bed of roses, by any means, but I’m thankful for the things I’ve learned along the way.

If cancer hadn’t come into my life, I’d probably still be taking each day for granted. I’d still be assuming friends and family knew I cared about them, even if I didn’t take time to show it to them and I’d still be taking my health for granted.

They say you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. Cancer did take many things away from me, but even so, I have to give thanks.

I’ve lost many friends and family to cancer and I know, if they were still here, most of them would never say they were thankful cancer came into their lives. The only reason I can say I’m thankful is because I’m still here to tell you about it.

My story could have ended very differently. I could have succumbed to the disease instead of surviving for almost 10 years but my story isn’t over and for that, I’m extremely grateful.

As I join the family this year to celebrate our Thanksgiving meal, I’ll be including cancer in my gratitude list. And believe me, I don’t take thanking God for my cancer experience lightly. It’s honestly been the most difficult challenge I’ve faced in my 66 years of life, but I’d do it all over again if necessary.

My hope, in sharing this perspective, is to help someone else see that all parts of cancer don’t have to be negative. Some parts can be helpful. Understanding how a person can see cancer through the lens of gratitude is odd, but I’m glad I found a way to see it. I think I would have missed some of the most important teachings the disease brought my way otherwise.

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