Thanksgiving With a Side of Cancer


A breast cancer and melanoma survivor shares what Thanksgiving helped teach her.

Happy Thanksgiving. Yes, it is happy. I am happy to still be here with my loved ones and friends. Sometimes we get hung up on the presentation and food of Thanksgiving and other holidays, and I think we sometimes overlook the gratitude. I am focusing on being grateful for the family and friends who are here — whether they have or have had cancer or other health problems. I am focusing on being grateful that I am still here to celebrate regardless of side effects, complications and an upcoming PET scan. Bottom line: I am here.

Is your glass half empty or half full? The older I get and the longer I survive, the more I realize how much of life really happens just between my own two ears and simply is my perception of the events that come up. I am still probably hardwired as a glass-is-half-empty person, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work on improving my attitude of gratitude.

If you need help with the details of Thanksgiving, ask for help and be grateful for the help. If people know what is going on, they often try to help. Most people want to do the right thing most of the time, whether I have a positive attitude or not. Today, I took my mom with her walker to a restaurant and a complete stranger got up from the middle of her meal to help hold the doors for us! People pay attention and when they see something, they do try to help.

Practice the skill of slowing time down and getting better at living in the moment. You can do this by listening to music, practicing meditation, or doing easy activities that keep your hands busy but help slow your cancer worry thoughts down. This will help you cultivate calmness and gratitude. As a survivor, I wish I had learned these calming lessons sooner.

Remember to laugh. Watch funny movies. Try to find humor even in unhappy events. It’s OK to be yourself and be a little snarky or quirky to lighten the difficult moments. One time, my daughter couldn’t legally drink in our state, but we happened to be in another state — I couldn’t because of the treatment, so it was ironic and funny to watch her enjoying ordering a drink!

Give your spouse and family breaks. If they have their own down time to focus on their passion and regenerate, it will help everyone’s attitude. Consider starting a gratitude journal for yourself and suggest that your loved ones try it too. I try to come up with three new things to be grateful for every day. Sometimes it is something as small as a nice phone conversation or the sun shining out briefly from behind the clouds. It may sound a little corny, but putting yourself on notice to find three things per day, whether you write them down or not, truly helps your attitude over time.

The holidays can be stressful and, as cancer survivors, we have unfortunately experienced stress at a whole new level. Keep the holidays in perspective. We know it could be worse — a lot worse. Take a breath. Be gentle with yourself and those around you. Forgive yourself or others if tensions rise. Keep it all in perspective. You can do this. Please share what is helpful to you to celebrate Thanksgiving, and yes, have a happy Thanksgiving.

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Dr. Kelly Stratton
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