Cancer Is … Gratitude
In the Northern hemisphere, December ushers in short days and cold, dark nights. According to Farmer’s Almanac the December 21st winter solstice is the one day of the year with the shortest amount of daylight. Anyone who’s been on a cancer journey understands that much of the year can feel like one never ending winter solstice.
This December, I find myself at the intersection of gratitude and sorrow. It feels like I’ve already lived through months of darkness, barely able to distinguish between what is mine to carry and what it’s time to release. I’d been cancer free for almost six years, lived through the muscle pain, depression and insomnia brought on by five years of daily Tamoxifen only to discover that there’s a new cancer in my “good” breast. My right breast – the one without scars, the one that reminds me of the days before diagnosis, the one that survived grueling chemo, the one that isn’t four shades darker due to radiation, the healthy breast that used to whisper “we beat it” when I looked in the mirror. The breast that still made me feel sensual.
Cancer is learning to exist within the duality of emotions. It’s learning how to move through the winter solstice of diagnosis and PTSD into brighter days where gratitude pulls me out of the pit of gloom. I’m not talking about toxic positivity where we are told to “look on the bright side” or blindsided by the words “it could be worse” by well-meaning people. I’m talking about a genuine feeling of gratitude for whatever it is that I can sincerely feel thankful for despite dark days and often, darker nights.
Gratitude for me looks like thanking my body for sustaining me and being gentle with the words I use when describing her. It looks like feeling victorious that I get up every morning and put one foot in front of the other, trusting that I’m moving forward despite setbacks. It looks like daily self-reflection, and it consists of giving loving kindness to myself on days when I try my hardest and still can’t stop the tears, so I take deep belly breaths while honoring them. It looks like forgiving myself for feeling hopeless and trusting that tomorrow will be better.
Gratitude and fear can and do co-exist. As do gratitude and loneliness, gratitude and sadness, gratitude and despair and gratitude and anger. I can be sad about this cancer recurrence and grateful for a medical team I trust. I can be terrified about the bi-lateral mastectomy scheduled for later this month and grateful the cancer was detected at an early stage. I can feel lost in a sea of isolation and feel gratitude for being held and supported by a community of family and friends.
Embracing gratitude offers me the space to unapologetically remember what a bad ass woman I am. This body birthed a healthy son and these breasts gave me the gift of providing nourishment when he needed it most. This heart keeps beating even while breaking, keeps loving while grieving and keeps bursting with joy at the simplest of pleasures. All the beautiful scars I’ve acquired continue to remind me of the grace I’ve been given to be alive another year.
This winter solstice I’ll be keenly aware of the long, dark night but I’m believing in the curative power of leaning into gratitude. There’s a light emanating through all of us that cancer will never be able to dim. We must honour it and trust that it’s our pathway into healing, renewal and miracles.
Kai McGee is a writer who frequently explores parenting, her journey through breast cancer, social-justice and self-care. She is currently working on her memoir. Connect with her via Instagram @onanaturalkai
Cancer Is… is a monthly blog where Kai McGee explores thoughts on what cancer is and is not from her lens of walking the journey as a survivor, thriver and champion for Breast Cancer awareness.