Thanksgiving provides each of us an opportunity to take inventory of our lives and truly list our blessings. Thanksgiving has a way of opening the door of our hearts and souls to others, allowing the spirit of generosity to permeate to each other.
But the happy face of Thanksgiving does not always fit. For breast cancer and other cancer survivors this time can be bitter-sweet, especially if you are currently in treatment or wrestling with bad news on how your treatment is going. If you are having a difficult time emotionally or physically then this holiday can present some challenges. Rather that asking you to hide those challenges and pretend that you are just thankful to be alive, I am giving you permission to be honest with yourself and others. There is a trick to this honesty because as you probably know by now, honesty is not always well received by the general population. Most people just do not know what to say when you say you are in treatment for cancer. It is not that they are selfish, inept, or rude. They just don’t know what to say. As a result they end up saying something like, “hope you feel better soon.”
Here is my Thanksgiving advice for you:
The bottom line no one knows if he/she will be alive this time next year. Now, by telling you that truth, I have just leveled the playing field. You are really no different than your neighbor who seems to be happy-go-lucky Mr. Good Guy. The difference is that you are aware you are now mortal. That reality allows you to make a difference this Thanksgiving in ways other people can’t.
Here are some things to do as a result:
- Make a list of your friends, family and acquaintances. Be mindful as you do this by getting out a large notepad or even beautiful stationary. Spend time listing these people.
- Next, ask yourself, “Who would be my best ally or friend on this list if I allowed myself to be vulnerable with him/her?” Imagine yourself calling that person and asking them to come visit with you for a little bit. If they live far away ask for a time when you can have a brief but meaningful conversation with them on the phone. I know your anxiety is rising because I am asking you to do something for yourself. Take a breath and relax a bit because I am going to ask you to do something for all of those other people on your list in a minute. However, you must learn how to take care of your difficult emotions first.
Here is a brief script you can practice saying to the one person that you chose to be your friend on the list:
Susie (the name of your person) I am reaching out to you today because I trust you and believe I can be honest with you. You have shown me over our time together that you are genuinely interested in how I am doing. To be truthful with you, I have never really known how to answer that question. But today, I just need you to know that I am having a difficult time right now. This Thanksgiving is feeling overwhelming and I am sad. I hurt and my treatment is not going very easy right now. Because, I know you have cared about that in the past, I am letting you know that now in the most honest way I can. It feels better just to say the truth to someone. I know there is nothing you can do Susie to change anything I am going through. I just needed to get it off of my chest. Thanks so much for listening to me.”
See, that wasn’t so bad was it? That was an exercise in reaching out to get your needs met and allowing a friend to be there to listen. In most cases sharing with a friend at this level of honesty will help you feel a little better.
Now, look at that list of people. What do you know about each of them? Ask yourself, “What would I say or do for them if they were in a difficult spot this Thanksgiving?” Asking yourself that question will help you get out of your box and into his/her box, making you aware if it is not cancer, it is usually something.
Depending on your energy level, here are a few suggestions of some action you can take:
- If you a person of prayer, you can offer a prayer for each of them.
- If you have the energy and the contact information you can call them and tell them, “Happy Thanksgiving. I am just thinking about you. Hope you have a wonderful day.”
- You can send a note or you can just keep the list handy and look at it often to remind yourself that we really all are in this together, one way or the other.
The last suggestion for this Thanksgiving is for you to do something this day to distract yourself from you. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on your fear. Any activity out of the ordinary will help you get your mind off of yourself and be thankful that even though you have cancer you still can do some activities and be valuable to others along the way. Be thankful for that and enjoy what you can. Let go of the rest.
Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.