This Thanksgiving holiday marks five years since I heard those life-altering words: “No evidence of disease.” Several months earlier, I’d heard a different set of life-altering words: “Aggressive breast cancer.” “Aggressive” is a really scary word when paired with the word cancer. But the thing about cancer is that even when it’s gone, it’s still with you. Every. Single. Day.
The excruciating pain of chemo has passed. My hair has grown back. My body looks different but still allows me to put it through all sorts of gym-rat rigors. But survivor guilt is real and permeates the very fibers of my soul.
The day I heard my dear high school friend Naomi succumbed, part of me died with her. Our diagnoses came within months of one another. After years of silence, we found each other. We reminisced. We commiserated. She died. I lived. It’s torture to try and wrap my head around why her four children remain motherless while I am blessed with the joy of seeing my three daughters grow and mature into beautiful young women.
Conquering Stress through Gratitude
Psychologists call it post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): the absolute need to control everything because you now know that you actually control nothing. The constant wonder about what lurks around the corner, what each out-of-the ordinary feeling really means and whether the cancer ever really goes away. It strains the mental growth trajectory of the children beside you and alters the mindset of those who love and care for you. But resilience is not just about bouncing back; it’s also about bouncing forward.
For me, I work to conquer my PTSD with a focus on gratitude. Each day, I strive to remember that I was given the gift of life for a reason. As we approach this Thanksgiving, it’s not lost on me that I have three incredible daughters, a rewarding career with an employer that truly values the contributions from its team, deep and lasting friendships, family that shows up no matter what, and two pups who provide countless hours of warm snuggles.
This year, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I encourage each of you to dig in and focus on the things for which you are grateful. In the moments of stress and trauma, it’s hard to unearth how we can help ourselves. Making gratitude a habit is a first step. Consider creating a gratitude journal and writing one thing each day. Maybe it’s something as simple as the hydrangeas that bloom outside your window. Or maybe it’s watching your teenager find solace within herself and her choices. Reminding yourself of your blessings – big and small – will help you swallow those harder days, which will happen.
And get screened; it saves lives. I’m living proof.
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