Gratitude Under Pressure

Twenty years ago, the Love of My Life was diagnosed with breast cancer.  The tumor was small and could be removed with a lumpectomy (although it took two tries to get it all).  She was treated with radiation and hormone therapy and regular mammograms, and in spite of a few false alarms, she remained cancer-free.   It seemed to be common knowledge that if you made it through 15 years without recurrence you were home free and we began to believe it.  Fortunately my wife, Muri, was conscientious about annual mammograms because last month, she had a callback for something suspicious.  What a shock.  If you have ever been down this road that no one wants to travel, you know it can be a maddening series of hopes and disappointment.  You hope that the ultrasound will show that its nothing to worry about.  Then you hope the biopsy will show it’s not cancer and then that its small and you caught it early.  Then you hope its a good cancer and not a bad cancer, a notion that would be ludicrous if it weren’t so true.   The specific characteristics of the cancer significantly affect the prognosis and course of treatment.  It can be a process that sucks the gratitude right out of you.

Not coincidentally, about 25 years ago, my friend Don taught me about the importance of gratitude in maintaining a positive attitude in the face of life’s challenges.  I have started about 80% of my days during those 25 years by writing a gratitude list and I have sat through dozens of meetings with gratitude as the topic.   I have had what I would call a charmed life for the most part and often gratitude comes easy but even the most charmed life has dark times.  Those dark times are when I need most to be grateful and when cheerful platitudes fall flat.   It seems ironic that gratitude should be hard to find just when we need it most but maybe what we need in those times is the effort of making ourselves grateful.   An old friend known to most of us as Bubbles used to say Gratitude isn’t a feeling, it’s an action.  Or to appropriate a saying by Jack London, You can’t wait for gratitude.  You have to hunt it down with a club.

Muri has undergone a major surgery and is recovering nicely with very little pain.  We are just learning the details of the pathology of the cancer and the possibilities for further treatment.   For a while, we were holding our breath to be grateful for the next best possible news and when that didn’t come we’d start over again, waiting.  But at virtually the same time, we both realized that we need to stop waiting to be grateful and deal with what is happening right now.  I am grateful that the surgery was successful and that her recovery has been almost pain free.  I am grateful that we caught it early and, in fact, that we caught it at all.   I am grateful that it is a good cancer (yes, ludicrous concept but true) that is more easily treatable and amenable to genomic analysis that points to specific courses of treatment.   I am grateful that here in our brand new home in Utah we seem to have found a cancer center that is giving my wife the best possible care.   I am grateful that our daughter’s family is nearby to cheer us up and that our now distant friends have been there with phone calls and emails and cards and flowers.   Your prayers would be appreciated.

Epilogue:  Breast cancer is an older woman’s disease (1/3 are found in women over 70) and recurrences in one’s seventies are not uncommon.   Fifteen years cancer free does not mean you are done.  Cancer is relentless so don’t stop having checkups … catching it early is critical.  According to Healthline, guidelines recommend that if a woman has a life expectancy of at least five years and is in good general health, then it is reasonable to continue screening mammography.

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5 Comments on “Gratitude Under Pressure”

  1. Katherine Says:

    I wish you all the best.A young woman in my family has just begun treatment.Waiting is hard but she is now on chemo.So many others too

  2. Mike Curatola Says:

    Wow. Thanks for sharing Bud. Prayers coming to your wife for healing! Sometimes the pressure brings out the good stuff. Stay well and God bless.

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