Grateful and Thankful – for Cancer? By Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel

It’s hard to think of those words when you are going through cancer. I remember! They just don’t compute when you are scared and so unsure of your future.

However, as the years between initial diagnosis and wellness widen, there are many ways that you will relate to those two words. I thought if I shared them with you now, you might be able to spot them wherever you are in your journey and know that they will be a bigger part of your life as you move along your path.

Cancer stops you in your tracks and literally creates an environment where you have the opportunity to evaluate your life as it is. Otherwise, we likely would just keep going along the way we always have. Even for those who are happy with their life pre-cancer, there are some areas that could be tweaked, even subtle changes can make a huge difference in terms of healing.

Then there are those of us who need to make huge, radical changes. Life is not okay. It has taken cancer to get our attention and ‘permission’ to change our lives. Sometimes, this is at the crux of the matter. We carry on as usual even when we know better because it is easier or we don’t feel we deserve better.

Cancer is now right in your face. What are you going to do? Can you heal and get better where you are under the current circumstances? That’s a brutal question, I agree. I never said that the healing path from cancer to wellness would be easy. It is not.

The treatment phase of the journey can actually be the easiest part. It’s straightforward, not pleasant but doable for most, and there is the hope that when treatment is finished, life can carry on as before and we are better. Fixed!! Well, sorry, NOT.

The real journey begins after treatment when we examine those parts of our life that are not working as well as they could. We have to dig deep often to uncover what we have buried way down inside so we don’t have to deal with it. Being on a healing path using healing tools such as journaling and mediation, awaken long held emotions. Our inner voice starts to pipe up and work hard to catch our attention. It’s probably been screaming inside for some time, we just haven’t wanted to hear it.

Depending on your situation, there are some questions you might ask yourself.

  1. Am I truly happy?
  2. Do I feel that I have a purpose in life?
  3. What areas of my life need adjustment – diet, exercise, a job, a relationship, etc.?
  4. What have I always wanted to do but didn’t have the courage to dare?
  5. Where have I always wanted to live?
  6. What talents have I hidden for way too long?
  7. Are the people in my life supporting me?
  8. Are the people in my life adding positive vibes?

These are just a few of the questions I actually asked myself during this phase. I did a lot of journaling, learned mediation, went for long walks, read extensively, evaluated my relationships, and discovered who I was inside. not the person I had to be on the outside to deal with my situation.

Was it fun – NO!!! It was painful, but ever so rewarding. It was, in truth, the best work I have ever done, and by far, the hardest.

Just for the opportunity to figure this out has made me GRATEFUL and THANKFUL for cancer coming into my life. It created the perfect storm for me to explore my world. I’m not sure I ever would have done what it took to turn my life around if I hadn’t had cancer.

  • It made me aware that life was short. It was possibly going to be much shorter than I ever envisioned.
  • It made me realize that I was in charge of my life – I was responsible. I didn’t have to accept what was not working. I could make a change. Others would have to take responsibility for their actions and make their own choices.
  • I found my purpose in time. The path I’m currently on and the work I do now is so precious to me. Would I have found this without cancer – I don’t think so.
  • It forced me to open up, be receptive to healing ways, to learn, to grow, to become so much more.
  • It made me value life, not take it for granted. To be aware of small things. This alone has created the Grateful and Thankful attitude that can be foreign when dealing with a life-threatening illness, such as cancer.
  • I’ve become ME. What a gift! Not a perfect ME, but a REAL ME. That’s enough. And, it’s everything!!!!
  • It has created a well of happiness within me – happiness with life.

About happiness – what is happiness anyway? Is it just a feeling? Is it more? Does it come from being grateful and thankful?

The dictionary describes happiness as ‘the quality or state of being happy’. Happy is described as “characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment or joy.”

What then makes you happy? When do you feel contented or a sense of joy in your life? When does your heart feel like bursting it is so full? What are those moments of pure bliss, when you melt into the now and feel that there is nowhere else you’d rather be than where you are in that moment?

I can’t answer those questions for you. I’ve answered them for myself and mostly live in this space. When I stop living in this space, I make adjustments and go back to my original questions to find out what I need to do. This is a lifelong pursuit.

Does that mean we should always be happy? Well, that would be the ideal, but not the reality. It’s a goal, a way of being, a choice, and a way of determining our path. Often we have to experience the opposite of happy to truly know what happiness is.

This then is the work of Gratefulness and Thankfulness for the work we do to turn our lives into ones of meaning and purpose. When we become our REAL ME, we enrich the world around us. This is not a selfish pursuit. We emit strong waves of positive, open, and loving energy that affects every living thing in our sphere. Our energy also has the power to heal, not only ourselves, but others around us.

Can you then see how Gratefulness and Thankfulness can be part of your cancer vocabulary? It is definitely part of mine. No, it didn’t happen in the very beginning, and not always along the journey, but in looking throughout the years since my diagnosis, I definitely, with great vigor, can say I am ‘Grateful’ and ‘Thankful’ for my cancer.

If I could have learned these lessons without cancer, that would have been a bonus. However, like most things in life, we don’t learn the easy way, we learn the hard way. We learn by being tested and challenged beyond our limits. We learn by rising above our limitations to push through boundaries of self-imposed complacency. We expand. We grow. We become.

Every day, I dig deep inside to haul up reserves to push through my own inertia and want of comfort. I guess I’ve done this most of my life, stretching boundaries. I’ve always been curious to see how far I could go with my gifts and talents, and means. I’ve never wanted to reach my deathbed and wish I had not dared to live up to my potential. Will I reach it? I don’t know because truly, I don’t know what ‘it’ is. Mostly, ‘it’ is the journey, not the destination. It’s the process of striving, learning, and accepting challenges that is the real meat of life.

What then does Gratefulness and Thankfulness mean to you? Can you see either or both of those words in your cancer vocabulary?
To your evolving journey, may you find Gratefulness and Thankfulness.

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