Gratitude Transforms

By Bridget McCrea

By the time Faith Boudreau knew that she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the disease had already spread through 25 percent of her body’s bone marrow. “I was in stage IV, and I didn’t even know it,” recalls Faith. “One might think the diagnosis would be a moment of hopelessness,but that wasn’t the case for me.”

Determined to fight the disease, this Monte Cassino Middle School counselor from Tulsa, Oklahoma, took an aggressive stance against the lymphoma. She completed various stages of treatment and post-treatment follow-up. That was in 2003. Today she’s in remission and doing her part to help other patients manage diagnosis and treatment.

Part of that effort includes showing patients the importance of expressing and feeling gratitude even when life throws them a curveball. As a direct result of that gratitude, Faith became an executive committee member of Celebrating the Art of Healing, an annual educational symposium that focuses on quality of life for both newly diagnosed and long-term cancer survivors, their adult family members, caregivers, and health care professionals.

“When there’s tragedy in our lives, our first reaction is to curse it,” Faith explains. “Gratitude becomes a transformative process and changes those initial angry or sad impulses into a healing journey.”

Put simply, patients who acknowledge the good that comes to them from their family, friends, doctors, clergy, parishioners, and others can gain benefit from expressing positive feelings of gratitude. Articulating gratitude also serves as a simple way for patients to develop strong, meaningful relationships with their supporters.

People who regularly practice gratefulness are known to have better emotional, physical, and mental health than those who do not. “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life,” writes self-help author Melody Beattie, a household name in addiction and recovery circles, whose book Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself is well known. “It turns what we have into enough, and more.”

Managing Reality Checks

Faith says that expressing gratitude is especially beneficial for cancer patients and survivors who have experienced the reality check that a diagnosis delivers. By feeling and expressing gratitude toward others, these patients can open their hearts and tackle their difficulties both during and after treatment. “I know that I could not have made it without the love and support of my husband and children. Gratitude connects us to the people who have been essential throughout the healing process,” Faith adds, “and connects us to a deeper reality of who we are and why we are here.”

There are many different ways to express gratitude. During her own treatment, for example, Faith says she and her husband selected a few meaningful pieces of writing from Marianne Williamson’s Illuminated Prayers and used note cards to mail the messages out to 200 friends, family members, and supporters.

Faith used the cards to update recipients on how she was doing and how blessed she was to be making positive progress. She also signed up as a volunteer for the local chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. In that position, she responded to calls from people across the country to answer their questions about treatment from the perspective of someone who had gone through the experience. “I was able to give back to others,” says Faith, “and show gratitude for my own life in the process.”

Learning from Others

Cami Walker, author of the New York Times best-selling book 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life, knows the value of expressing gratitude when facing life’s many challenges. A small-business consultant in Los Angeles, Cami was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2006 and spent nearly a year in the hospital in excruciating pain.

Rather than dwell on her misfortune, Cami says she turned to a piece of advice that was shared by a friend: give 29 gifts in 29 days. Initially, Cami had rejected the idea. I couldn’t even walk. How would giving things away possibly help? she thought to herself. Then, during a particularly painful, sleepless night, she remembered the advice and decided to take it.

The next morning Cami called a friend who lives with MS. “We had a nice conversation, and that was my first ‘gift,’” says Cami. “Things immediately started to turn around for me.” Ever since then she’s been committed to a daily practice of altruism and advises cancer patients and survivors to follow a similar path.

“Do something positive every day no matter how tough of a time you are going through,” Cami recommends. “You can wrap the day up feeling a little better knowing that you did something helpful and useful that went beyond just taking care of yourself.” Cami says giving also opens the door for receiving: the more you give, the more you realize the value of others’ contributions.

“When someone calls to offer you a ride or bring a meal over to your house, you’ll be less likely to say, ‘Oh no, I’m fine,’” says Cami. “So it works both ways.”

Taking That First Step

Expressing gratitude doesn’t have to take a lot of time and energy. The exercise can be as simple as reaching out to a neighbor who was helpful during your treatment or sending out a few thank-you cards to family members who delivered food and support during a difficult time. When treatment is over and you have your strength back, consider signing up for a volunteer position with an advocacy group, your church, or another organization that supports individuals in need.

“Cancer survivors are extremely credible; people will listen to you and learn from you,” says Faith. “Getting involved is an excellent way to express gratitude and give back to the groups and individuals who helped you during the challenging times.”

Finally, Faith says giving thanks to those who came before you and didn’t survive the experience can be extremely cathartic. Her own mother-in-law succumbed to ovarian cancer within 18 months of diagnosis and intensive treatment, for example. Her spirit and legacy serve as constant reminders to Faith of how fortunate she was to effectively overcome lymphoma.

“Appreciate those who gave their lives so that the medical staff, doctors, and researchers could learn about the disease and create more-effective dosages and treatments as a result,” states Faith. “Realize that you are not in this alone and that there are people out there who can benefit from your gratitude.”

 

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