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Breast Cancer Journey - Blessings and Thanksgiving

For me, this Thanksgiving Season holds new reasons for gratitude. This is my first Thanksgiving as a cancer patient and there are a multitude of blessings to this chapter in my life.

Being given a diagnosis of hereditary breast cancer was a giant "Stop Sign" for me; a "Stop Sign" I could not wiggle past with even the most clever planning and persistence. The initial shock, grief, and fear have given way to surrender and acceptance. They also have made room for me to notice the many blessings that my illness has brought into my life.

This Thanksgiving I'm thankful for a host of unexpected blessings that I never saw coming. This illness and its grueling treatment have given me an "opportunity" to ask for help - and to receive help so graciously given by friends, family, staff, acquaintances, and even strangers.  I'm gifted with help from a larger circle of people than I would have ever dreamed possible. I have never before reached out like this and it's wonderful. Acquaintances and neighbors have become friends as they drive me to my doctor's appointments, accompany me on my daily walk, or just stop by to visit. Even the busy employees at the DMV brought me water and offered their support the day I optimistically scheduled both my mammogram and my DMV license renewal appointment.

Cancer has forced me to step off the treadmill of productivity. The unhurried hours spent in the company of old and new friends are healing; it's a true blessing that this time of stillness has made possible. In the past few months, I've been touched time and time again with the most heartfelt messages of support from patients, web customers, blog readers, and business colleagues. Each one of these messages touches me deeply. I keep every one of them, whether it is a handwritten card, an email, or a blog comment. I read them to my husband and I reread them when I'm blue. I notice the small details like artwork, handwriting, or what time of day an email was written because it connects me to my community of thoughtful and kind people who have taken time to let me know that they care about me and what I'm going through. What a blessing! It's a reminder that this big world is really small and that none of us are truly alone - my lovely collection of well-wishing message is living proof.

I now have time to sit or walk in nature every day. For me, this is a reminder of our connectedness to something much bigger than our contemporary busy lives. I didn't see this coming when I got the cancer diagnosis.

My doctors prescribed 45 minutes of walking every day because it enhances the success of cancer treatment. As prescribed, I spend 45 minutes walking in nature daily accompanied by a friend.  Those 45 minutes are healing, not just to my chemo-wrecked body, but also to a deeper part of my general well being. My time is now punctuated by, and actually revolves around, my daily 45 minutes spent in nature. I've watched the seasons change up close.

I can't help but look at life differently and it's another one of cancer's blessings. My illness has forced me to re-balance my day in a way that preserves my energy instead of uses it up. Everyone who knows me knows that I am an example of our country's work ethic; I get such joy from my work that, like eating chocolate, I don't always stop when I should. I don't think I'm alone in this. Cancer has forced me to stop. No more depleting my energy for a task because right now I have no energy reserve and my health would suffer. It's a forced lesson and you know, I'm sleeping really well and feeling surprisingly at ease in spite of it all.

Again, I would never have done this on my own; it's that Big C "Stop Sign" and it's not all bad. Like so many others who have faced life-threatening illness, each day is a blessing and I view it differently.  Before cancer, I might have focused too much on irritating frustrations like slow traffic, a "spontaneous" mess in my kitchen, a mistake on a bill that lands me on hold when I telephone the company to clear things up, etc.  Now I see the beauty of fall, the pleasure of spending time with people, the antics of my silly poodle, and the list goes on. It's a reframe of my perspective and it's another of cancer's blessings.

After living 55 years, it took the Big C "Stop Sign" to make me slow down and actually stop for a time. In exchange, it brought me these blessings. Strange as it might sound, I'm grateful.

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving Season, With Blessings and Gratitude,

Cynthia Bailey MD Board Certified Dermatologist 

Photo: Thanks and Gratitude to Ewan Traveler