On Cancer Survivorship and Gratitude


Cancer survivor tries to actively practice gratitude during stressful holiday season and life's changes.

As a cancer survivor, I talk a lot about gratitude because actively choosing to regularly practice gratitude is a powerful tool to manage the worries and fears of being a patient or a survivor. This morning, I sat in the living room of our new-to-us downsized house and began to lament this new place where we live as I watched the day get darker instead of brighter because of pending rain.

Instead of feeling gloomy about the weather and life’s uncertainties, I chose to think about a couple people who I am grateful to have in my life—my daughter who baked a cake last night for a new neighbor, and the new neighbor who is coming over to share it with us this morning! I also made the conscious choice to decide the gray day is soothing rather than depressing and to appreciate the fact that baking cakes in this new house is the beginning of making this house into our home. This stuff does not come naturally to me. Still, it helps.

You can do it! Every coin has two sides. When you find your mind pulled to the “wrong” side of the coin, you can consciously and deliberately choose to flip the coin. Look for silver linings. They are almost always there. Even the negative stuff like cancer — maybe especially the negative stuff – is an opportunity for growth and learning.

I am not naturally “Little Miss Sunshine,” or a glass-is-half-full sort of a person (especially after two cancers) and yet I can choose to develop that side of my personality. I have chosen to subscribe to (and read) a couple of motivational online email newsletters. Getting a daily boost of positive thinking seems to help me as I call myself an “optimist in training.”

We can encourage and support each other. A long time ago, I asked a dear friend who I respect very much about the meaning of life. OK, there might have been a glass of wine involved as well. I will always remember what she said and I work more every day to take her words to heart. She said, “Life is about our relationships with each other.”

Simple, yet so difficult. There are so many fallen and broken relationships in our lives, yes? My friend didn’t talk about health or success or accomplishments or experiences or even service. I knew at that moment that I had and still have lots of relationship work to do.

I knew I could make hundreds of better choices every week as I took her advice into my heart. I could do a better job connecting with people and staying connected with the people in my life. I knew I could hold my tongue before something thoughtless, mean or know-it-all popped out. I knew I could pick up the phone and connect with the people in my life — especially after cancer, I knew I wanted to let the people around me know I was grateful for them. I work on compliments and kind words. Honestly, I don’t always succeed, and I am trying. Perfection is not the goal. It is about immersing myself in the process of trying.

Maybe we can all try harder to be kinder and more grateful. Even as cancer survivors, maybe especially as cancer survivors, we don’t get a free pass on this one. Honestly, when I was newly diagnosed with breast cancer, it was all very me, me, me for quite a while. Though this was a somewhat natural reaction, I was wrong. I did not behave that way when my second cancer, a melanoma, came along a few years later, and I was happy about that. I will always be a work in progress, and right now I am grateful for every day I am here to try. I will try to practice more gratitude in this season of Thanksgiving. It makes sense, right?

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