Thankful? For cancer? Not really. But as Americans gather this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to share gifts I found scattered all over cancer’s path. For these treasures, I am grateful.
“Who’s Gail?” My husband asked, handing me another card from this incredible stranger in Flower Mound, Texas. A friend of my sister, she learned about my cancer and sent me many encouraging cards and gifts. I’m thankful for Gail and others like her who showed me the power of compassion, and I vow to pass that gift forward.
“You have three months,” my doctor said. Before my diagnosis, I made an effort to value life. But something changes when you come close to mortality. I understand better now that every minute is precious.
“Cancer was my year off from the world,” a nurse told me. He had gone through treatment, too, and said I’d get through it with a lot of sleep. I still find myself overcome with exhaustion sometimes and, unlike before, I don’t fight it. I am thankful that cancer gave me the sense to take better care of myself.
“I think I’m having a heart attack,” my husband said. It was nearly midnight, and we were still driving home from chemotherapy. We pulled the car to the shoulder and dialed 911. The paramedics told us it was stress-induced anxiety and that when his wife recovered, Gary would, too. That experience reinforced to me how deeply our lives are intertwined, and my wish for the world is that every single person could have someone with whom they feel entirely connected.
“Mom, it was awesome,” my daughter told me. Every two weeks, my sisters took time off from their work, their husbands, and their lives to stay with Lauren so Gary could be with me during chemotherapy. I worried about leaving my child, but when I asked her how it was, she said “Awesome.” My sisters braided her hair, took her on hikes, jumped on her trampoline. The kid had a blast. I knew at that moment that no matter what happened, my family would pull together, that everything would be okay, and a profound sense of peace rested in my soul. That moment remains one of the best in my life.
“We’re going to feel this one,” my husband said, writing a check for a cause we support after we decided to increase our family’s donations. Cancer has reinforced how short life really is, and we know better than we did before that the time to share is now.
“Don’t breathe,” a voice directed through a speaker, reminding me to keep perfectly still. Alone in a surreal space, I used my time during daily radiation treatments to do deep mediations. Cancer taught me to feel the Loving Presence in more powerful ways than I ever knew was possible.
“I already called Miss Gina and packed a bag,” my 9-year-old told us when she overheard my husband and me making plans to go to the ER just before bedtime. Cancer helped me realize I have incredible people in my life and am thankful for people like Miss Gina, who took Lauren in at a moment’s notice without even knowing when the child would be coming home.
“I’m closing the door now,” I said to Gary and Lauren when I decided to write a novel. Every night for 30 days, I wrote 1,700 words. It’s a challenge many writers take on during November, so by the end of the month, we have the first draft of a book. But it’s something I never did before my diagnosis. Cancer has taught me the importance of taking time for myself.
“Order a milkshake,” my doctor told me during chemo. I took her advice seriously and adopted them as my primary food source. Like many women, I stopped enjoying milkshakes as soon as I learned to count calories, but cancer gave me permission to indulge. It never would have happened without my diagnosis.
… and so, onwards, ever thankful
The type of cancer I have is particularly nasty. Triple negative breast cancer typically strikes younger women. It’s aggressive, and for the first five years after treatment, it wants to come back. I can’t recommend it, but the lessons it brought have made my life better. For that, and another holiday to celebrate with my family, I’m thankful.
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