Cancer Has Taught Me to Be Thankful
As Thanksgiving rolls around again, my thoughts turn to packing my husband and daughters into our car for a traffic-filled drive to New Jersey, where I spend Wednesday frantically and happily grocery shopping and cooking with my sister for our huge family feast on Thursday.
Before we hit the road -- and the holiday madness begins -- I like to reflect on thankfulness.
In my food-obsessed family, where my sister and I, the designated cooks, start planning the menu in October, it takes some effort to remember that the holiday isn’t all about the food. Sure, food plays a major role, as we select a few new recipes to go along with traditional family classics -- the Grand Marnier stuffing and my mother’s sweet potato and apple casserole.
My family consists of five middle-aged siblings and our spouses, our eight offspring (ages 3 to 26), and my mother. The rest of the year we are scattered in six states, from New York to Arizona. Thanksgiving is our family holiday, the one noisy time of the year we all try to gather under one roof.
Sometimes, if the kids don’t protest too much, we go around the large table -- there are seldom fewer than 20 of us crammed in -- and name one thing we are thankful for. I never directly say what I’m thinking -- that I’m grateful to have made it through another year in good health. In this crowd, my good health is assumed. In the last year alone, my stepfather and my father-in-law, both amazingly tough guys in their 90s, died after long illnesses. And I still can’t forget the horrible scare a few Thanksgivings ago, when my beloved athletic nephew Zach, now 23, was in the hospital for a biopsy that we were told might result in a finger amputation. Thankfully, he’s fine today, with his 10 fingers intact, for which I give a silent thanks every year.
So, let me recount here some of the ways, large and small, that having breast cancer almost a decade ago play into my Thanksgiving thoughts:
1. I’m still here, and so far, fingers crossed, no recurrence.
2. My kids are getting more independent. Next year, if all goes as planned, my older daughter will leave for college. And if she doesn’t get into her top choice school, it’s not the end of the world. She’ll be happy somewhere else.
3. I can usually distinguish between bad news that is merely expensive and inconvenient -- a tree falls on my car, the basement is flooded again -- and truly bad news -- someone dies or has a life-threatening illness.
4. Even when I get a terrible haircut, I remember that I’m not bald, and that bad haircuts are temporary and hair always grows back.
5. Although I hate the side effects of the anti-cancer drugs I’ve been on for years -- the hot flashes, weight gain, osteoporosis, etc. -- I’m thankful, nonetheless, for chemotherapy, tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors, and all the other drugs and medical procedures that have saved my life.
6. Although our family reunions tend to remind me of a Seinfeld episode grafted onto a Eugene O’Neill play, I’m truly thankful to be sharing the day with the people I love most -- even if they are also the people who know best how to push my buttons. Because even more than a turkey, family and giving thanks is the essence of the day.
Published On: November 21, 2005