Finding Gratitude on the Cancer Journey

By Eileen Coan, Medical Librarian

What are you grateful for? If you or someone you love has cancer, it can be difficult to think about gratitude at all. You may resent someone who even suggests it. It may seem that feelings of anger, sadness or fear come up more often than gratitude. What we have found in our twenty years of listening to individuals and families, is that noticing and acknowledging something that went right, or at least better than you thought, can be calming both physically and emotionally.

Your days might be filled with medical appointments, tests or scans. Those days can be exhausting, stressful and painful. Try Looking back on the day: did someone open a door for you, did someone give you a warm hug, did the tech find your vein on the first stick? Tiny victories and small kindnesses can make all the difference in getting through those kind of days. Think about how you felt when it happened. Did you feel warm and fuzzy, if even for a moment? Can you revisit that moment and make it last longer?

Your nights might be filled with worries, insomnia, or requests for help from your loved ones. Those nights can feel endless and lonely. Take a moment to look out the window – can you see the moon or stars or a nocturnal animal visiting your yard? Sometimes an ordinary thing can become special when you focus on it. Can you feel the movement of air from your ceiling fan, or the weight of your blanket on a chilly night? Take time with those feelings in the here and now. Can you put all your attention on the night sky or the breeze?

If you look too far into the future, you may find yourself dwelling on the pile of bills still unpaid, the important events you might not get to attend, the medicines that might stop working. Or, you can switch your focus to today, right now. The laugh you got from a meme or video on your phone. That’s gratitude. If you think too far back in the past, you might spiral down into all you have lost. Or, you could chose one good memory from one magic day. Revisit that day – who was there, what did it sound like, smell like. Stay there a while. That is gratitude.

At The Gathering Place, we have books on gratitude, discussions on gratitude, and a weekly Facebook posting expressing gratitude for those supporting our work and from those who benefit from our programs. Even in these troubling times, when we hear about new acts of violence, it can settle your nerves and warm your heart to remember someone who has been kind to you. Thank them in your heart – that is gratitude.

During the month of November, The Gathering Place will be sharing tips and tools on practicing gratitude via email and social media posts. To sign up, email apisdorf@touchedbycancer.org and say you would like to participate.

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