Being Grateful in the Face of Cancer

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By Lola Baltzell

I have been a metastatic breast cancer patient at Dana-Farber for over four years now. “Metastatic” means the cancer has spread beyond the breast. I have an amazing team of providers, especially my oncologist Ann Partridge and nurse practitioner Anne Kelly.

Having grown up on a farm in Iowa, I sometimes think about how fortunate I am to live within walking distance of Dana-Farber. Even though I receive the best care imaginable, I also believe that I am part of the treatment team, and I have a lot of responsibility as well to contribute to my own health and well-being.

Photo by Mark Natale

In other words, while others are caring for you, you must also care for yourself. My advice is to live as fully as you can between scans and check-ups, and find opportunities to be grateful.

When I was a teenager, my aunt said to me, “Laura Leigh, you need to thank God for 25 things each and every day. You have so many blessings and should not feel sorry for yourself.” At the time I thought she was ridiculous, but later in life I began to follow her advice.

In the face of adversity, being grateful is about the last thing that comes to mind. We sometimes limit ourselves by thinking, “I am a cancer patient.” We lose sight of everything else. But, being grateful can help you notice what is good in your life.

I am grateful for:

  • Simple things, like a good night’s sleep. There have been plenty of nights with physical discomfort and mental anguish. So when it’s good, it’s good!
  • A body that is currently pain-free and mobile
  • Some of the basics we take for granted: Shelter, clean water, heating/cooling in our homes, enough food, protection from violence and war, the light and warmth of the sun
  • The ability to develop qualities I  value: love, wisdom, kindness, honesty, hard work, generosity, joy, connection to others, equanimity
  • Using my mind to read, write, and think
  • The five senses which give access to so much beauty and pleasure

Meister Eckhardt, a 13th century German mystic and philosopher, said “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

Laura “Lola” Baltzell is an artist and Dana-Farber cancer patient. Read her advice on building a support network.

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