Thanksgiving with a Side of Gratitude (or Not)

Thanksgiving is a big meal, and the main course of the holiday is gratitude.

Cervivor is a place to get real. So let’s put this on our holiday table: is gratitude easy or tough for you? As cancer survivors, can we confess that we sometimes have a tricky on-again off-again relationship with gratitude? If you’ve just received a diagnosis, gratitude is the last thing on your mind. It wasn’t on my mind in the chemotherapy chair.

As a survivor, I am epically, hugely, ginormously (seriously!) grateful for every day that I have. But that is mixed, still – 18 years later – with the feelings about my lost fertility and, on a bad day, frustration about my ongoing health battles with the after-effects of cancer.

The reassuring part is, I know I’m not alone. I just need to turn to Cervivor Stories and the Cervivor blog to know that others are riding with me on the emotional rollercoaster of the holiday season. I’m feeling grateful to the Cervivors who wrote so honestly about their own gratitude struggles. Thank you for keeping it real. And honest.

 “I wasn’t in a spirit for any holiday after receiving my diagnosis. Everything had gone dark. That year there was no giving thanks on Thanksgiving, no tree for Christmas. What was the sense of doing all that if I felt uncertain about my life? It took a while for me to feel ready to fight back. It was a difficult journey, but I got a second shot at life. Now, I give thanks every day as if it were Thanksgiving Day. I celebrate each day and see it as a gift given to me like a Christmas present. There’s so much I want to do, and I don’t take anything for granted. I see life differently now. Problems that seemed huge are not so big anymore. I really don’t sweat the small stuff.”  – Patti

It’s perfectly normal after cancer to have feelings of depression and anxiety. However, once we acknowledge them, we get to CHOOSE what to do with them… Since cancer, I choose to live in a different state of mind. Cancer brings you face to face with mortality, death, and time. Once I began to digest my mortality, it changed my mindset toward every single thing.

I no longer look at the holiday season with the same weight and importance as when I was a child. I still love them, and Christmas is STILL my favorite. But I live with much more intention and purpose now. Every day is Christmas because for me it’s a state of mind that I choose.  New Years’ Eve brings hope and excitement, but I am just as excited about the next 365 days of opportunity and growth.  This shift isn’t something that just happens. For me, it takes a bit of work.” – Holly

It’s hard to feel grateful when you are nauseous, exhausted, depleted, and in pain.  That’s ok!  I would go into a cycle of feeling depressed, and then get mad at myself for not being more thankful that I would make it out of this alive. My boyfriend would constantly tell me, “You’re ‘should-ing’ on yourself again.” 

Going through cancer is hard enough, and the side effects both during and after treatment are draining (to put it mildly).  We should at least be able to give ourselves a break… People write inspirational and positive blogs to give others strength and hope, and to advocate for change, and all of that is useful and wonderful.  But sometimes it is nice to hear that people are struggling with the same crappy emotions that you are. We all have those moments of sheer frustration and anger and complete debilitating sadness over the hand we have been dealt, and that is ok too.” – Ana

This past year has been a process.  A process of grief, depression, anxiety, anger and many tears, as well as gratitude, blessings and opportunity.” – Megan

I had so much unresolved grief and unanswered questions. Cervivor help me settle some things within myself and fulfill the need I have for service to honor my mom. I am so thankful that Cervivor has once made me believe that I can go on. I can go on and help fight cervical cancer.” – Lillian

Do these reflections resonate with you?

What are you grateful for, and what are your gratitude struggles?

Please share in the comments below. We are here to listen and we are here to support you.

Tamika Felder is an 18-year cervical cancer survivor and award-winning women’s health advocate. She is the Chief Visionary at Cervivor – a nonprofit dedicated to cervical cancer advocacy and support. Named a “Cancer Rebel” by Newsweek in a 2017 cover story, Tamika is a highly sought-after speaker on cervical cancer advocacy, cancer prevention, HPV education, and living life with purpose after cancer. She is the author of “Seriously, What Are You Waiting For? 13 Actions To Ignite Your Life & Achieve The Ultimate Comeback.” Tamika currently serves on the steering committee of the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable. She’s also shared her story and experiences on Presidential Cancer Panels convened by the White House. An award-winning television producer, Tamika is currently filming a documentary about cervical cancer, the women living with it, and the vaccine to prevent it.  Her story of patient-to-advocate / survivor-to-Cervivor inspires and mentors not only patients and medical communities, but anyone who has struggled with obstacles in their life.

Voices from Caregivers on Family Caregivers Month

As November comes to a close and families come together over the holidays, let’s remember the importance of the caregivers in our lives. November is National Family Caregivers Month and a great opportunity to give out appreciations to the family and friends who helped support us during our diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and today.

We are pleased that there are many caregivers who are active in our Cervivor community. Several have shared their experience on our blog.

Like Lillian, who wrote about how “taking care of my mother has made me grateful and showed me how to go on.

My great aunt took care of my mother. But when my aunt fell asleep, my mother would call for me to help her. I was young, and it was incredibly painful to take care of my mother and see her suffer. I developed a lot of inner strength during that time. I relied on the love I had for my mother to carry me through those nights. I remember one evening when she was in pain, we held hands and listened to the song ‘I Feel Like Going On.’ We listened to that song so many times that eventually we were both singing it. We both felt encouraged. I felt like I had the strength to take care of her, and she felt like she had the strength to live for her family.

Lillian lost her mother to cervical cancer. In her blog, she reflects about the impact that caring for her mother had on her life. “Many times in my life there have been things that are rough. Many times I want to give up. Sometimes I am having a bad day. But I think about that day, when I held my mother’s hand and sang, and I feel like going on.”

Like Tarrence, who so honestly and openly shared the challenges of getting from one day to the next in his blog post, What did I do as a caregiver?  I endured. 

I just kept going and tried to do things that could keep us all moving forward getting through one day at a time.  Ultimately my role as caregiver was to show up every day and do the very best I could.  That’s really all anyone can ask of you, and it’s literally all you can do…Through this experience, I learned a lot about what it means to really be with someone.   I learned that I can show up for someone in ways I’m not sure I knew I could before this.  I learned that I’m stronger than I thought I was and that my Heather is truly the strongest person I know.  I learned a lot about letting people in and being vulnerable.  For me, being a caregiver meant calling upon all I had to get through one day and onto the next.  It meant bringing the best parts of myself to the tasks we were presented with each day.” 

Like Claude, who learned about truly “being a man” when he became a caregiver to his partner Holly.

In my opinion, being a man is standing with the woman you love and help her walk down a linoleum hallway in the middle of the night and holding her hand as she struggles to stay upright.  It’s holding the catheter bag filled with despair and fragile hope. Being a man is running to every CVS, Walgreens and 7-Eleven trying to find a back scratcher for Holly to use on her legs as she cannot bend down to reach them while she lies between fits of incredible pain. Being a man is staying awake all night to rub her back as gently as possible, so that she may rest for even just a moment.”

Caregivers are a core part of our lives and our Cervivor community. Please leave a comment below if you have an awesome caregiver you want to give a shout-out to. If you have a caregiver who is willing to write about his/her experiences and perspective, we’d love feature them in an upcoming blog! We are stronger when we share our stories, and the whole community can benefit. Email us at info@cervivor.org

Is someone in your community currently helping support and care for a loved one undergoing cancer treatment? Make sure they have resources that can help, such as plugging in with the Caregiver Action Network.