Thanksgiving was this past Thursday. One of the gifts that my cancer diagnosis gave to me was the ability to truly be thankful for small things. In years past, I intellectually knew that Thanksgiving is a day set aside to express thanks and gratitude for the things we have and the people in our lives. This year was truly a different experience for me, though. I have never been so truly, deeply and completely happy to celebrate the small, seemingly mundane moments of life.
In 2013, I had just gotten out of the hospital six days prior to Thanksgiving. On Thanksgiving day, I could not stand up straight. I was hunched over because my incision pulled my abdominal cavity together tightly. It was impossible to hold my body in a fully upright position.
My husband and kids had signed up for the local YMCA Turkey Trot 5k on Thanksgiving day. I insisted on going to watch the race. It was physically difficult to stand up for an hour, but I did not want to miss seeing my kids and husband cross the finish line. As for the rest of the day, I barely remember anything from it. I know we enjoyed a family meal, but I honestly cannot remember any of the details.
This week has been an entirely different experience for all of us. Instead of watching my family run the Turkey Trot 5k, I happily signed us all up to run. I had friends tease me about how shocked they were that I would sign up for a 5k because it wasn’t a long enough race for me. Truthfully, I have never looked down on 5ks. On the contrary, I think they are a uniquely painful race. But it is true that I used to never run 5ks. This year, there is nothing I wanted to do more than go run with my daughters. I was ecstatic to get the opportunity to enjoy the experience with my kids, friends and neighbors, not worrying about time or pace, but soaking in the moment. I was grateful for the opportunity to be there with my daughters, and I was grateful that they were willing to spend the time with me.
Thanksgiving afternoon, we had a lovely dinner with friends who have been through this long journey with us. We ate, talked, and laughed. I am truly grateful for the friends who have seen me at my absolute worst and who still choose to be my friend. I am grateful for the people who have supported our family along the way. I am so appreciative of the mothers who have helped me out with my kids during this past year. I am grateful to be able to share a meal with people I love.
I am grateful to be well enough to host a slumber party this year. I am thankful for the house filling with the laughter of girls who enjoy each other’s company. After a year of never knowing when I would be well enough to host other kids, there is no sweeter sound than the laughter of my daughters and their friends. I am grateful for the wonderful friends that my daughters have in their lives.
I am also so thankful for the opportunity I have been given to help other patients who have been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. This week, I have had phone conversations and email exchanges with people who have recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I know how lonely and isolated I felt at times after my diagnosis. I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to say to others facing this illness, “You are not alone.”
This year, I truly learned that I am most thankful for the people our lives. All I wanted this year was to feel well, to spend time with my family and friends and to experience laughter and joy. I received all of those gifts and so many more. I am glad that I have been given the opportunity to feel such deep gratitude for what is truly important in life.