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Did cancer make you more grateful?

Did Cancer Make You More Grateful?

One of my biggest cancer pet peeves is the one about cancer turning you into a new and improved version of your former self. Somehow cancer makes you a better person. I don’t agree with that premise and have written about it in more depth here. Another cancer expectation out there is that following your cancer diagnosis, you become more grateful. I’ve thought about this one from time to time and since it’s the month of thankfulness and gratitude, I’m wondering about it again.

Often you hear people who’ve been diagnosed with cancer, or any serious illness, say thereafter they appreciate life more, take things for granted less often and are in general more grateful.

My first reaction whenever I read or hear this kind of thing is to resist. I’m not sure why this is true, but it is. I don’t give cancer credit for much other than upheaval and heartache.

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, gratitude is the hot topic of the month, or one of them anyway. I think I was a pretty grateful person before cancer, and I feel I am a pretty grateful person these days too.

Am I more grateful now?

Are you?

Well, I am of course, more grateful to be alive than I used to be. Or am I? I am certainly grateful for many people and many things in my life.

But am I more grateful than I was before?

I don’t know. Maybe. Probably. I hope so. I try to be. But not because of cancer.

Gratitude, after all, is an evolving thing is it not?Did cancer make you more grateful?

Gratitude is something we learn, improve upon, or better understand the complexities of over time. Cancer or no cancer, gratitude, like many things, matures over time.

As Brene Brown says in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection:

For years, I subscribed to the notion of an “attitude of gratitude.” I’ve since learned that an attitude is an orientation or a way of thinking and that “having an attitude” doesn’t always translate to a behavior… It  seems that gratitude without practice may be a little like faith without works – it’s not alive.

Gratitude is not just a feeling; it’s something which requires doing, and not just a now and then kind of doing, but practicing at least on a somewhat regular basis.

Finding gratitude involves effort.

I like that way of thinking about gratitude.

One of my blogging friends, Lisa Valentine, authors a blog called Habitual Gratitude. You should check it out sometime. I marvel at how Lisa looks for something to be grateful for every single day and then blogs about it. That is real commitment to practicing gratitude. Most people, me included, do not put that kind of effort into finding gratitude. Can finding gratitude become a habit? Lisa thinks so.

No matter where you are in your life and no matter how you feel about these things, gratitude is definitely one of those topics worthy of thinking about from time to time, and not just once a year on the fourth Thursday in November.

Being thankful for the life and all that we have right now in this moment, and feeling gratitude for those we are spending this moment with (even if it’s just oneself), maybe that’s enough.

Maybe it always has been.

I have much to be grateful for today and every day and one of these things is all of you, my dear readers.

Wishing a very happy Thanksgiving to all my USA friends!

If applicable, did cancer make you more grateful?

Do you work at finding gratitude?

What is someone or something you are grateful for today, right now?

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20 thoughts on “Did Cancer Make You More Grateful?

  1. I don’t think cancer has made me more grateful. I was grateful before cancer. Every day I appreciate the privilege that I have. Cancer didn’t change this. Am I any more grateful to be alive? not yet. I’m still in treatment. I haven’t really internalized the cancer diagnosis – I’m still in denial that this is my life – and I have no clue what my life will be after diagnosis. Things are just as uncertain now as they were before I was diagnosed with cancer – I just have something to focus on for the short term.

    1. Rebecca, Sometimes I wonder if it’s even possible to completely internalize a cancer diagnosis and all that it brings. Like you, I don’t think cancer in and of itself made me more grateful either. But I do think gratitude is something which matures and requires doing and practicing. Good luck with the rest of your treatment and in handling all the uncertainties. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  2. I don’t know if cancer made me more grateful, but it made me more willing to accept people’s offers for help, and grateful for the love and support I get. I see so many of my fellow metsters who are going through rough times with their families, I know not to take the gift I have with mine for granted. I’m grateful for my family and friends, who’ve chosen to stand with me on this.

    I’m grateful, I suppose, that cancer has made me less likely to tolerate any BS in my life, and I don’t often get upset anymore because Someone On The Internet Is Wrong. I’ve gone from “Must correct false information and opinions presented as fact!” to “Not my circus, not my monkey”.

  3. I have definitely felt very grateful for some things over the last 5 months or so since my diagnosis. But it’s still early days for me, so I don’t really know exactly how having had breast cancer in my life is going to change me as a person. I think gratitude is just one of many new feelings and insights that can come our way … and it’s alright to feel grateful alongside other things like feeling cheated, being resentful or annoyed. It’s never as simple as some people would like to say it is.

    1. Rethink Street. You’re so right about the complexities of feelings. We can most definitely feel gratitude along with feelings of loss, anger, annoyance, or any other for that matter. It is still early on for you and you’ve experienced much change. There is probably lots more to come. We adapt, adjust and carry on through it all. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  4. Hi Nancy,

    This is a really complex topic. I am not grateful that I had cancer. But cancer helped me make quality-of-life decisions to help me better appreciate life. I don’t know if that makes sense, but as you know, before cancer my life was turbulent because I never set boundaries and had harmful-to-me relationships with people and environments. Once cancer came, I started to prioritize and let go of toxicity.

    I do think gratitude in general is a good thing, and I do think that making writing about gratitude a daily habit is really a good thing. I’ve done it in my journal for awhile, and it works! I’ve got to get back to doing this. I put a gratitude entry in about a week ago, but I should do this every day.

    I’m grateful for so much, I can’t even say it all, but I know I’m grateful our paths crossed! Happy Thanksgiving, my dear friend.

    1. Beth, I haven’t journaled in a while. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that since it’s something I believe in so strongly! I think doing a written gratitude-type exercise daily is a wonderful idea. Or once a week. Or even just thinking about it. I’m grateful for so much, too, and one of these things is that our paths crossed. I am so grateful for our friendship; knowing you’re out there is a wonderful feeling. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks for the mention Nancy! I do work at practicing gratitude and agree with Brene Brown’s words…actions required. Cancer gave me different ways to look at my priorities and life overall. But the true value of my gratitude practice, which I had been doing years before my BC diagnosis, is that it gave me more energy to face chemo, surgeries, appts. Gratitude practice is good for me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. That has helped me through many tough days and helped me find joy in the mundane. Thanks !

  6. I have the evidence I need about the effectiveness of gratitude practice because I have experienced it myself over time. (And earlier on, when I thought I “had it figured out” and didn’t need to keep practicing gratitude regularly, I was shown that life went better if I kept it up.) I don’t doubt that it helps me in all areas of my health. But there is also a science behind this and growing evidence to support it. One great place to find more reading on this is the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley. Here is a link to just one of the many videos and articles about gratitude practice if you care to take a look:

    http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/gg_live/parenting_videos/video/why_gratitude_works1/

    Where we focus our thoughts is where our thoughts lead us.

    1. Lisa, Thank you for sharing the link. And I think it’s worth mentioning that practicing gratitude does not mean ‘just staying positive’ – or it doesn’t mean that to me anyway. Thanks again, Lisa.

  7. It certainly changed my view on life – my life, at least. There are so many dark emotions brought on by cancer, I have to focus on the positives to get up, get on and keep living. Gratitude is in there for having this moment, for being with my husband, for taking a pain-free breath. I’m aware of these things because of cancer. Now, that being said, I’m also haunted by a very deep sadness of because of it too, and I do miss that time in my life when this wasn’t a reality. ~Catherine

    1. Catherine, The cancer feelings and emotions are varied and complex indeed. And yes, reality is much changed for some. Thank you for sharing about this. xx

  8. I’m not grateful to cancer for anything. That being said, I am grateful everyday that I am alive, wake up, put both feet on the floor, rise up & greet the day. Due to my diagnosis, I have made some changes for the good in my life. But I’m not thankful to cancer for that. I’m being realistic & making changes I wouldn’t have to make if cancer hadn’t reared it’s ugly head. I in thankful for the support I have to help me on this journey (?). I’m also thankful to have met some great people along the way.

    1. Carol, Well said. Cancer didn’t make me more grateful. And I am certainly not grateful to cancer for anything either. Am I grateful for people I’ve met and support I’ve received since cancer? Of course, but that is not the same thing IMO. Thank you for reading and sharing.

      1. Same Page, Nancy. My mind goes into complete boggle mode when I hear someone actually thank their cancer for making them a better person. Good grief! How bad were you, anyway?!
        No, I’m a firm believer that time and experience makes you, or should make you, more grateful. I’m 63. I’m grateful for that. I would have been just as grateful had cancer not darkened my doorway.
        I’ll never give a thumbs up to that line of thinking.

  9. I think cancer is a terrible disease and for me it holds no meaning beyond that. I was a good person before cancer, a public servant and a nature lover who already valued the people in my life. I already knew that there were no guarantees in life and I set my intentions to be a helper of others. Frankly, cancer sucks and is godless. How could an omnipresent and omnipotent creator allow countless humans to suffer from this dreadful disease? The only answer I have that I can stomach is that God has nothing to do with cancer. Cancer is a product of human beings polluting Earth. I am grateful that it didn’t take cancer to make me grateful. Babies and children die everyday all over the planet. If I survive my diagnosis I will believe it’s because I had a lucky response to chemo. I could not accept that it was because of God allowing me more time because I’m more special than other humans. That being said, I hope I’m lucky.

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