My childhood memories of Thanksgiving seem to be shrouded and stored in some faraway locker in my mind. I imagine myself with family, probably at my grandparents house – the grandparents whose memory stimulates a warmth in my chest and stinging behind my eyes. I spent countless hours with them so it would reason that some of those hours included Thanksgiving but any details conjured are fantasy. Can it be that my happy childhood memories are too painful to recall? I ponder this as I sit alone in my drafty apartment, stiff fingers tapping at keys.
Around the country families are indulging in calories as if the plague will take them tomorrow. I, on the other hand, fill up on organic nutrition dispensed directly into my belly. I never cared much for Thanksgiving food (unless my dear friend Joy is cooking in which case sign me up every time!) but this year I dream about turkey and mashed potatoes – incredible how a cagey mind works.
Despite my solitude and deprivation of solid food, this year I hold more gratitude than those that preceded it.
I was excited for 2020. I was turning 50, completing a degree, going on my first silent meditation retreat, and in general I felt like something life changing was on the horizon. Well… I wasn’t wrong.
By late spring it became impossible for me to envision surviving this year. A global pandemic changed life for everyone. Repeatedly hearing how dangerous it was for someone with diabetes fostered a fear in me that multiplied much like the cancer cells secretly flourishing in my neck. This ominous diagnosis at this already precarious time left me feeling like a bulls-eye with only the poisonous tip of too many arrows in sight – my spirit, buried in the ashes of my expectations.*
But here I am! I made it to Thanksgiving rocking a skin head and a lean frame reminiscent of my teenage years. While my prognosis is still TBD, seeing out the rest of this year and even my next birthday is likely, so I have much to be grateful for.
My list is long and simple:
- My medical team – Truly lovely humans who know how to instill trust in terrified patients. They indulged my verbosity and learned to enjoy my refusal to succumb to the multitude of side effects they were forced to warn me about (imagine their faces the first time I said thanks, but that won’t happen to me).
- Medicine – Chemotherapy, anti-nausea, steroids, radiation, creams, ointments, gels, medical marijuana (ok that one was easy) – so much was thrown at me and I was grateful for all of it. Many people think of chemo as toxin – not this girl. Thoughts can be poisonous so I kept mine appreciative.
- Friends – The pandemic created distance that forced me to proactively reach out to friends with my terrible diagnosis. Vulnerability is kryptonite, but I couldn’t undertake this challenge by myself. Deanna listened and cried with me during frequent meltdowns; Joy and Kellen thought things through, anticipating my needs when I was incapable of organizing a thought; Dave and Theresa spent hours in traffic driving me around as did Hana’s dad; they and many others checked in regularly and didn’t let me self isolate. So much love.
- My boss – Who sent me thoughtful gifts and encouraged me to nap and binge on Netflix even though I was still on his payroll.
- The simple stuff – My home, medical insurance, liquid nutrition, each and every breath that I take.
- My practice & the teachers who support it – I stopped formally meditating almost immediately after diagnosis, I just couldn’t bear to be with myself, but the work I put in in the last eight years was rich in dividends. Not only did my practice kick in when I was being bolted down to a table every day (for radiation – good times), but I was able to recognize when my thoughts were going to the menacing land of “what if” prompting a rapid detour.
We spend so much time in life striving, comparing, desiring, but when shit hits none of that matters. Please don’t wait for shit to hit before being grateful for your gifts both big and small.
I may not be able to recall happy childhood holiday memories, but I am thankful that I’ve been given some time to ponder why… and hopefully indulge in more of Joy’s cooking.
Until next time…
*Look forward to more details on the adventures in cancer survival in future posts.