Thanksgiving can be a stressful time for those with cancer, but it doesn’t have to be. I learned that it can also be a time filled with love and joy.
I love this time of year when the weather turns cooler, the leaves begin to fall and the holidays are just around the corner. It’s a time of gathering with friends and family, a time of reflection and a time of gratitude.
For a person affected by cancer, it can be a very emotional time, especially for those like me who’ve survived cancer.
My first Thanksgiving after being diagnosed with cancer was extremely challenging. I’d just completed 28 rounds of radiation a month before the holiday. My chest and neck still bore the radiation burns, which were difficult to heal. I wasn’t feeling the best and was hardly in the mood to celebrate. But family and friends helped me survive that holiday by offering their love and encouragement.
Although I wasn’t sure I was going to live to see Christmas, I did. Since then, I’ve done my best to focus on daily gratitude. It’s been a constant reminder to be thankful for each moment of every day.
This year, eight years post diagnosis, I’m looking forward to the holidays. They’re a lot of work, to be sure, but well worth the effort. In my freezer sits a big, fat 19-pound turkey. He’ll provide a good meal for my family and me. I’ll begin planning the menu and sending out invitations, then, I’ll start cooking some of our favorite family recipes, many of which have become annual traditions like my famous cornbread dressing, my sweet cranberry orange relish, creamy hashbrown casseroleand sweet potato souffle. Yum!
There’s nothing like having a house full of people during holiday time. The joy and laughter are priceless. While those are always things I look forward to, I also find myself becoming introspective days before the big celebration. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — in fact, I think it’s a rather good thing as I look back on all the blessings I’ve received over the years, especially regarding my health. Reflection is a vital part of gratitude.
But for some, with wounds still fresh and raw, feelings of gratitude may be very far away. Those people may find themselves mired with fear and grief, both of which are very natural immediately following a cancer diagnosis. An unknown future can thrust a person into a season of depression, anxiety or despair.
The holidays come and go so quickly. Expectations can be high and can often lead to disappointments.
Here are seven things I’ve learned over the years that have helped make my holidays easier:
Holidays are meaningful annual events. Whether yours is chaotic or quiet, remember to look for the blessings. Sometimes they come in unexpected ways.
I love this quote by self-help author, Melody Beattie:
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
Thanksgiving. Giving thanks. We should do this daily, but we often take much for granted.
This year, I plan on making the holiday noteworthy as I reflect on the past eight years. I’ve overcome many hardships, but I’m still here and I’m very happy to be alive.
For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.