I’ve been feeling extra grateful this week, knowing that it is the 4 year anniversary of my bilateral mastectomy (having completed 6 cycles of chemo before that), and it’s got me thinking about the many benefits of gratitude practice, especially for us cancer survivors. Sometimes it just hits me how healthy and strong and resilient I feel, how almost surprised I am at that, and how truly grateful I am to feel so well and so full of life. I wanted to share a little today, so that others who are earlier on in their cancer journey might be inspired to give a try to gratitude practice, and see how significant the benefits can be in helping one navigate through all of cancer’s challenges and recover to a place of amazing strength and beauty.
4 years ago I had no idea that I could ever get to this point, feel the way I feel today, or be able to live the life I am now living. For starters, I didn’t know for certain that I would even still be here. And beyond the simple accomplishment of surviving, I didn’t know if I would be able to be truly thriving. I was afraid of the possibility of debilitating effects of surgery, weakness, late chemotherapy side effects, chronic fatigue, memory loss, lymphedema, pain, and on and on. It was absolutely overwhelming the many things that I was afraid of. And for good reason. They are all potential side effects of cancer and cancer treatment. So if you’ve had the same fears, don’t beat yourself up about it. However, do recognize that allowing yourself to stay in a whirlwind of fear and negativity doesn’t do you much good. One awesome and easy way to help yourself out of those funks is to use gratitude practice.
Gratitude practice helps interrupt and distance us from negative or toxic emotions, and the ruminative thought vortices that often follow those types of emotions. Gratitude strengthens and encourages healthy emotions and thought patterns, making us feel happier, more joyful, more optimistic, and more relaxed. Gratitude practice also helps us feel more connected to other people, leaving us more open, understanding, and compassionate, which helps foster better relationships. Finally gratitude practice helps us feel more at peace, more accepting and trusting of our situations, even strengthening spiritual connections if you are so inclined.
You’ve probably also heard that there is a well of scientific literature on the proven benefits of gratitude practices. In various different situations, gratitude practice has been associated with improved mood, higher levels of energy, self-esteem and self-efficacy, improved sleep, enhanced peace of mind, reduced stress, and even lower markers of chronic inflammation (and you all know that chronic inflammation is a bad actor in heart health, cognitive function, cancer, and much more!). So it isn’t just woowoo, or some kind of witchcraft. Legit science confirms that gratitude practice makes us feel better in so many ways. So wow, why would we NOT practice gratitude?!
There are many ways to practice gratitude. You could just start a gratitude journal, and write daily about anything for which you are grateful. You could even write about it on facebook! You can practice gratitude meditations. You can focus on gratitude during your yoga practice. You can write letters of gratitude to others. Or you can just try to express gratitude more often in day to day life situations.
I’ll share with you a few of the things on my gratitude list for today. I’m grateful for the miracles of modern medicine. Without the chemotherapy, herceptin, and perjeta that I was fortunate enough to receive, who knows if I would even be alive (I am also now grateful to be off of these medicines because the diarrhea sucked big time). Also, without the surgical advances, I might have had much more debilitating effects from bilateral mastectomy and axillary node dissection (20 something nodes removed). Don’t get me wrong, I DO have side effects from my surgery and radiation. It isn’t perfect. It hurts sometimes and my shoulder is a little wonky. But it is WAAAAY better that what women had to deal with years ago. So yes, even though it isn’t perfect, I remain grateful (here is a perfect example of how gratitude practice helps you shift away from the negative thought/emotion, reframing it to a positive one). I’m grateful to so many lovely people who sent prayers and good vibes for my recovery. I’m grateful to family and friends who helped take care of me, both physically and emotionally, through it all.
Finally, I’m grateful to my yoga practice. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you know how much I believe yoga helped me recover to where I am today. Yoga taught me resilience, patience, acceptance, gentleness and compassion for myself. Yoga also empowered me, and helped me see that I could get strength and function back, in many ways becoming even stronger than before cancer. Yoga helped me feel more connected to and in tune with my body, including the new changes that came with cancer, as well as others that come as a normal function of aging. And yoga has helped me look within, finding that place of stillness, peace, light, and joy that is always there, despite whatever storms might be going on around me. Yoga is always on my list of things to be grateful for because it truly changed my life.
Oh, and one more thing. I’m grateful that I learned to practice gratitude. 😉 Give it a try. It really does work.