What breast cancer taught me about gratitude

What breast cancer taught me about gratitude

I wanted to share my journal entry from the Thanksgiving 2011. I wrote this about a month after my bilateral mastectomy, and I revisit it every year at Thanksgiving to remind myself about the power of finding gratitude even in our darkest moments:

11/24/11 (Thanksgiving)

I was laying in bed this morning, trying so hard to go back to sleep after staying up until midnight last night (even after a Valium), but I couldn’t. The house is quiet; Scott has taken the girls to get breakfast and probably pick up the cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner tonight. And all I can think about as I lay in bed is all the things I am thankful for this year. Topping the list, ironically enough, is breast cancer. 

I am thankful I found that lump (or those lumps, as it turned out to be) while it was small. I am thankful that while there was some lympho-vascular invasion, my lymph nodes were clear. I am thankful that walking down this path has shown me how truly loved I am by both my family and my friends. It has shown me that when you can no longer walk yourself, the loved ones in your life will literally carry you with their good thoughts, well wishes and support. I am thankful for the empathy that walking this path has instilled in me. When I look at people now, I wonder what’s really going on with them. I know few people would guess that behind my smile and small-talk, I’m battling a disease. Now as I lose my hair in the next month, that will likely be more difficult to hide, but there are still things that we are all battling that might not be apparent. I am thankful for the kindness of strangers and how small acts have shown me the beauty to be found in an otherwise dark time. 

I am thankful for all of the survivors who have come before me to make my path easier. Someone had to go through this to test new drugs, treatments and surgical techniques – all things I am benefiting from in a more catered health plan. Most importantly, those people have provided me with hope that I will get better. I am thankful to my grandmother, who was not a survivor. Hearing her breast cancer story and its unhappy ending spurred me into action when I found that lump. 

I am so thankful for my daughters. On days when I am feeling sad or sorry for myself, they are the reason I get out of bed. They need me. They need my time. They need as much time as possible. And that is why I will do whatever it takes to decrease my recurrence rate; so that I will have more time with them. 

I am thankful for my husband. Not only has his medical expertise provided me with an invaluable medical advocate through this journey, but his love and support have literally kept me going. I never wanted to go through the “in sickness” portion of our vows so early in our marriage (and in life), but knowing that I will be loved without breasts and without hair takes away some of that fear of the unknown. Knowing that we are going through this together – that I am not alone – somehow makes everything more bearable. Knowing that the pain and anxiety that we are going through currently is going to give us more time together in the future makes it worth bearing now, tenfold. 

Mostly, I am thankful for my life. No one knows how much time we have on this planet, and this whole experience has shown me how important it is to make the most of the time we do have. So breast cancer, I thank you for showing me all of this, but I hope to never see you again.

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