How to Express Your Gratitude After Cancer

by Phyllis Johnson Patient Advocate

Who helped you through cancer treatment? Have you expressed your appreciation? I’m sure you said thank you to the nurse when she brought you a warmed blanket or the family member who gave you food when you most needed it. All along the way, you have thanked the people who stood by you. But finding a way to say thank you for the whole experience of support can be more challenging. It might be time to express your gratitude to your medical team, the charitable and religious organizations that helped you, your neighbors, and your family.

Your medical team. I’ve known people who took a plate of brownies or a fruit basket to the chemo nurses when they finished chemo to say thank you. Or why not send them a picture of you on a trip or with the child who wasn’t even born when you were in treatment? Let them know that it is their care and professional expertise that has empowered you to fulfill your dreams.

A group that helped you. Did your sister get regular visits and notes from her church family? Did an American Cancer Society volunteer give you rides to the doctor? You said thank you to those individuals who helped you and your sister, but remember that these volunteers were inspired and sustained by their participation in a group. Consider a donation to the group to extend its reach to help other people. Most charities are happy to designate a contribution in memory or honor of a person.

Your friends and neighbors. Did the teenager who mowed your lawn refuse to take any money? Did your best friend babysit for you so your husband could go with you to your treatments? A thank you note with an enclosed gift card might be a good way to express your appreciation, especially if the gift card fits the kind of service they gave you. As you recover and have more energy, an invitation to coffee or dinner will give you a chance to listen to your friends and catch up with what has been going on in their own lives.

Your family. In some ways, families are the hardest to thank. They were suffering along with you. We expect our families to pitch in when a crisis hits, and we expect that we will do the same when problems arise for them. Of course, families differ in how they support each other, and what we expect of a spouse is different from what we expect of a cousin in another state. But we shouldn’t take help for granted even, or especially, when it comes from our family. Saying a formal thank you with specific examples of what they did that you found especially touching can let your family know how much you love and appreciate them. It may be possible to plan a special dinner or trip to celebrate the way everyone pulled together.

Not a writer? A written thank you note is always appropriate for any of the above folks. Putting your thanks in writing gives the recipient a tangible object to cherish. However, we are not all good at putting our thoughts in words. But the greeting card industry is here to help you! Find a thank you card with pre-written thanks, and then add just one sentence about a special memory you have of something that helped you.

Even if it has been years since you were in cancer treatment, or if you have moved away from where you lived at that time, it is not too late to express your gratitude. In fact, hearing that someone remembers a kindness from years ago can be especially meaningful. Whom do you want to thank today?

Phyllis Johnson
Meet Our Writer
Phyllis Johnson

Phyllis Johnson is an inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) survivor diagnosed in 1998. She has written about cancer for HealthCentral since 2007. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the oldest 501(3)(c) organization focused on research for IBC. Phyllis attends conferences such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD® Institute. She tweets at @mrsphjohnson.