Expressing Gratitude is Important During Breast Cancer Treatment

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Feelings of gratitude are something we all have. We’re grateful for everything from a sunny Saturday, to a teenage son who took out the trash (without being nagged), to the light that turns green as we approach.


    “Oh, boy; this must be my lucky day,” we think to ourselves. Or perhaps “God is smiling on me today.” But how often do the words “thank you” come out of our mouths?

    Why is it so easy to FEEL thankful, but not to say the words? Aside from the mumbled, obligatory “thanks” to the sales clerk handing you your change, or the embarrassed, downcast-eyes “thank you” to a co-worker who’s complimented your new sweater, why do we so seldom look someone in the eye, and say a heartfelt “thank you”?

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    My theory is that saying thanks makes us feel “beholden”–it makes us feel weak somehow, unable to take care of ourselves, needing someone else to step in and help. We’re not completely in control; we’re relying on others.


    Does this scenario sound familiar? Does it sound suspiciously like cancer treatment?

    Once you start the long walk through cancer, you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of people whose job it is to help you. At the hospital alone, you’ll be taken care of by an enormous crew of workers: the nurses and doctors, certainly, but also the clerk at the admitting desk, the dietary aide who brings you your meals, the social worker who helps you figure out your insurance, the “pink smock ladies” who deliver flowers, all the nameless, faceless folks who work in the blood bank, the pathology lab, who swab the floors and empty the trash buckets at night… Their job is to take care of YOU, either directly, or from a distance.


    How can you ever thank them all?

    Then, once the word spreads that you’re going through cancer, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of more kindnesses, both large and small, than you can count. During the first few months of treatment, I was uncomfortable with all of these different people “waiting on me,” doing things that I shouldn’t or couldn’t do. I found it difficult to acknowledge their help, choosing instead to do as much as I could for myself.


    Then came the turning point. It was a chilly, mid-October night, and I was sitting in the bleachers, in a crowd of fellow parents, watching my son play soccer. It was 6 weeks after I’d started chemo. My hair had nearly all fallen out, and I’d brought a warm hat and coat, but with the temperature dipping into the high 30s, I found myself unexpectedly cold; it hadn’t occurred to me that my shoulder-length hair had been warming my neck all those years.


    The soccer dad sitting next to me quietly took off his coat, and wrapped it around my neck. I was going to protest; surely he’d be cold himself! Why was my comfort more important than his?


    But I knew, with my white cells dwindling, I needed to be careful with my health. And the look in his eyes was so kind, I simply gave in. Instead of protesting, I said “thank you,” and snuggled into his coat.

  • That was the beginning. Since then, I’ve been able to thank people much more easily, much more often, than I could before cancer. I’ve come to realize my “weakness” is actually a gift: people are good, and they want to help. I give them the opportunity, they respond, and I say “thank you.”

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    And we both walk away with smiles, richer for the experience.

Published On: October 05, 2006