November brings with it cooler weather, leaves of gold and the feeling of thanks in the air. It’s the perfect time to begin a practice of gratitude. You Know Neen is hosting the 2nd Annual 30 Days of Gratitude blog series, a place where the experience of gratitude will be explored and shared. I, along with several other contributors will be sharing our thoughts on all things gratitude.
Written by: Kerri Morris, blogger, Cancer is Not a Gift
I’m posting on Nina’s blog for her 30 days of gratitude series, but I’m having second thoughts about doing so. You see, my blog is called “Cancer is Not a Gift.” I have ingratitude built into my blogger DNA.
It would be much easier for me to write about the things for which I’m not grateful. I have those in clear view. When my lens catches
sight of tragedy, it automatically focuses. The edges of the images are clear and well defined. The lighting is perfect. These are the eyes I was born with.
Despite the fact that I’m writing this on a crisp fall day—my favorite kind of day, a deep blue sky, a bit of wind, rustling leaves and that smell that fall brings with it of aging mulch and mums—I’m not feeling particularly grateful.
It’s been a tough few weeks, part of the cycle that people with a cancer diagnosis learn to schedule into their calendars. I’m in remission, maybe even cured, from Stage 1 bladder cancer. I completed treatment years ago and have not had a recurrence.
But I will be monitored for the rest of my life. And, I will also have the same tests and scans—the colonoscopies and mammograms—that everyone else has to have. Last week I had yearly blood tests, part of the regular health check that most people have.
Since my cancer diagnosis, waiting for the results of these myriad tests has been its own special kind of hell. The cystoscopies are easier, though much more invasive, because I see what the doc sees and he interprets everything while I’m being seen. But with the others, the waiting is a burden.
I usually get good results. I don’t have to have another colonoscopy for 10 years. Good for me. But since first being diagnosed my test results have led me to another biopsy and a surgical procedure. Both had happy endings, but the residue of fear lingers, and I have to have anesthesia, miss a day of work, wait in limbo, feel pain, and, well you know what I mean.
I am not grateful for the anxiety and depression that have descended. I am not grateful for waiting, for the unknown, for the way my imagination takes hold. Truth be told, I’m pretty fed up.
I’m not sure if people outside the cancer community realize how profoundly anxiety affects our lives. Depression is common, too, especially during diagnosis and treatment. But anxiety becomes chronic and, sometimes, clinical in the years that follow.
It comes in cycles, too. As each six month scope approaches (I haven’t yet graduated to yearly), the anxiety builds, peaks, and then recedes. After each test, whether or not it’s routine, the anxiety builds as the days tick by without results. And when the phone rings and I see the doc’s office is calling, I have to concentrate to keep from throwing up. Docs don’t call to tell you everything is fine.
And, so, I’m really, really focused on how I’m not grateful for this part of my life. Especially when people with cancer are expected to be heroes and inspirations and strong and fighters. All that bullshit. It’s such a burden sometimes to be expected to bear this with grace.
Other people who have or have had cancer can be the worst, too. “I’ve just learned to accept it. I just don’t let myself be afraid.” Every time I hear that it feels like a gut punch. I’m failing at cancer I guess. I’m supposed to see the silver lining and I’m supposed to be optimistic.
Not only am I ungrateful, but I feel guilty about it.
But, then, it occurs to me that gratitude isn’t a permanent condition. None of our conditions is, I guess. It’s all momentary. Now. As ephemeral as a breath taken in and exhaled. We can’t hold onto it. We can’t possess it, and it doesn’t possess us.
Gratitude is seeing that blue sky and noticing crispness in the morning air. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Gratitude sits alongside the anxiety and the depression. It’s a partner to suffering. It’s there, and I need to acknowledge it more and give myself more credit.
Of course I’m grateful. I’m grateful for a good prognosis, grateful for doctors who care, grateful that tests can see what the eye can not. I’m grateful that I am alive to wait for test results, even if waiting itself hurts.
I’m not much for “seeing silver linings.” I think that attitude trivializes and minimizes suffering and sorrow. The fact that I can learn from cancer, the fact that I can grow and mature in the context of having cancer, doesn’t mean that cancer is a gift.
For me, gratitude is not a way of erasing the suffering in my life or of dismissing the anxiety and fear. It is, instead, a respite, a moment of tasting or smelling, of seeing or feeling and really noticing the sweetness and the warmth.
It is a hug from a friend, a deep breath, a giggle, or my dog rolling on the ground. It is feeling those experiences as deeply as I can, way down in my cells. The fear goes straight to my heart. It pulses in my veins. So, why not let the gratitude in? It’s in my DNA, too.
Are you ready to start your 30 Days of Gratitude? What are you grateful for today? Let me know in the comments below.