Cancer Helped Me Discover New Ways To Be Grateful For My Life
Updated: Dec 14, 2019
I hate to admit there's aspects of my experience to be grateful for because then it seems like cancer is something I wanted. Something I enjoyed. Or that I don’t fully grasp its devastating effects and outcomes. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I truly despise this disease. It’s sneaky in its descent. And malicious in its ability to linger in disguise; waiting to appear from its hiding spot and scare the crap out of you. Sometimes, again and again. It creates a distrust in your own body and mind. It forces you into treatments that jeopardize other vital parts of yourself and your life. It takes mothers and fathers from their babies; partners from their soul mates; children from their parents. And that’s nothing to be grateful for. Ever.
Honestly, I’d give the this nightmare back to the universe if I had the opportunity. But that’s not possible. This is part of my life. And I’ve worked very hard to accept that.
Along with this acceptance, gratefulness was a characteristic I had to develop. I started by changing how I thought about life and altering my expectations. I began to emphasize the quality of days over the quantity of years; I recognized that I’m not privileged with the promise of tomorrow; and I gave up the illusion that I have control over my future.
In doing this, I realized what I do have control over; my actions and my attitude. I decided not to waste my precious time focusing on what cancer has taken from me, but rather, on what it has given me.
Some days, I struggle with this. Because often, the bad outweighs the good. This is true for many challenges and I know others struggle too. So I’m going to share a few ways I’ve learned how to be grateful in an ungrateful situation.
Name the people it has brought into your life.
Who have you met because of your situation? Do they share your same journey? Or are they there to help you in yours? Perhaps you’ve developed life-long friendships or made quick connections with individuals you admire. It doesn’t matter the kind of relationship or length of interaction, it’s the impact that matters.
From strangers to medical professionals to friends, family, and other survivors, I’ve been touched by the faith, generosity, and courage of others. I have received prayers and encouragement from people I hardly know; meals and donations from members of the community I live and work in; and support from those who love and care about me. I have learned lessons from these people about humanity and compassion that I’ll carry with me forever.
Think about the problems or complaints you had before.
Do they all still exist? I’ll bet the ones that really don’t matter have faded into the background and you have more clarity about the issues you should tackle and the ones you should let go. This is what happens in survival mode; the mountains turn into molehills, and the molehills disappear. Sometimes, forever.
For me, this was especially true for what I’ll call “future worries.” There were times I would get so worked up about something that hadn’t even happened yet. When I was diagnosed with cancer, my biggest worry about the future was just having one, so everything else that I use to anticipate and agonize over seemed irrelevant. Now, I understand the importance of living in the present rather than in an uncertain future.
Recognize how your situation has helped or improved others’ lives.
Have you helped another person facing a similar challenge? Have you shown more compassion to others in general? Have you raised donations for a related cause? These are all possible ways to create good for others from your bad situation. And it can be incredibly rewarding.
Or you may add joy to someone’s life that is not an action you take, but simply an outcome of your situation. For example, my mother and mother-in-law were extremely instrumental in helping care for my 2-year-old son, especially after I had my double mastectomy and while I received radiation treatment away from home. They took turns picking him up every day from daycare and would watch him before my husband got home from work. They had time with him that they never would have without my surgery and treatment. And although I know they would trade that time to have me healthy and well, I also know they enjoyed these extra moments with their grandson.
Find compassion for those who have it worse than you.
This will differ based on the severity of your situation, but there is usually someone who is worse off than you. Thinking of another persons tragedy may sound morbid, and it can be depressing, but it will give you perspective.
If I ever need to pull myself out of self-pity or “why me?” musings, I remind myself there are children and even babies diagnosed with cancer; little ones who lose this battle every day or have to get treatment that will adversely affect them for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t change my journey, and it breaks my heart, but it reminds me I am not above this; it can happen to anyone; and if they can survive, I can too.
Identify how you have grown.
Damage is often an inevitable part of adversity, but these hard times also provide fuel for self-improvement and personal growth. Perhaps you've adopted new habits to improve your physical, mental, or emotional health. Maybe a new perspective allowed you to let go of a toxic situation, job, or person. Or perhaps you decided to stop waiting for the "right time" to pursue a passion or a goal.
My most difficult days are what inspired me to start writing and gave me the courage to share my thoughts. So when I say I've found more ways to be grateful for my life, it’s because I’ve learned along the way that there are gifts from every experience; not just the good ones. But this took time and effort for me recognize. It’s not easy, and sometimes, it’s not possible. Sometimes life just sucks and there's nothing good to be found in a situation.
While I was living through some of the worst moments of my life, I couldn’t see what there was to be grateful for. But for me, I now realize feeling those lows made me a more compassionate person; a better person for myself and others. I’m proud of that, and I’m grateful for how I’ve grown. I hope the lessons I learned about finding gratitude in an ungrateful situation can help you grow through your challenges as well.