Joy Is the Simplest Form of Gratitude

Joy Is the Simplest Form of Gratitude

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

Joy Is the Simplest Form of Gratitude

The joy of a spirit is the measure of its power.

Ninon de Lenclos

A person who has been diagnosed with breast cancer anxiously waits to celebrate the five-year mark. Many doctors will tell you, “After five years with no cancer recurrence, you are cured of breast cancer.”

During those five years, your vocabulary may include words like biopsy, chemotherapy, radiation, tumor markers and tamoxifin. They are not just words—they are experiences.

During the first year you’re busy fighting for your life. Your calendar has more doctor appointment pages than social events. You’re still trying to accept the fact that your name has been used in the same sentence as cancer.

The second year, treatment is over, and your bald head now has peach fuzz. To a cancer patient there is no such thing as a bad-hair day: It is thrilling just to have hair, and it feels truly wonderful to have the wind blow through that new stuff on your head.

Years three and four, you start to relax. Every time you cough or have an ache or a pain, you no longer believe you might have a new cancer. Life is starting to become normal—you even visit the beauty salon to have your new hair styled.

The fifth year you graduate from the school of cancer. You’ve had a very tough teacher, but you did all your homework and learned your lessons well. A breast-cancer survivor never forgets the date she was told by her doctor that she has cancer. It is etched in her mind with all the other important events in her life. And graduation day, equally memorable, finally arrives after five long years of hard work. You stand a little taller, have a song in your heart and a wonderful smile on your face. It’s a wonderful day! The pill box has been removed from the kitchen counter, and the wig has been pushed back to the corner of the closet, now accumulating dust.

No one wants to hear the word cancer once—and certainly never twice.

Three months after graduating from the school of breast cancer, a routine pap smear showed abnormal cells, and the doctor said, “It would be a good idea to have more medical tests done.” I now learn more words: sonogram, CAT scan and that word biopsy again—and more blood tests. I had the tests and hoped I passed. The thought of having another cancer was unthinkable, and my mind repeated and repeated: I’ve already paid my cancer dues. I waited for the phone to ring, and when I heard my doctor’s voice I hoped she was calling to do lunch.

Deep within my spirit I knew something was wrong . . . and heard that ugly word again. The demon of cancer had raised its head, and once more it had invaded my life. Now I was really angry! I had graduated from cancer school, and now I’d been sent back to first grade! I wanted to yell and scream! I needed to hit something, to release these demons!

The hard part is telling the people I love that I must have an extensive hysterectomy—more scars on my body. Oh well, my childbearing days are over, and my bikini days are long gone. Another trip to a hospital—just put the car on auto-pilot because it knows the way after so many journeys. I realize I need to approach this one as the last and live my favorite quote: “I might have cancer, but cancer does not have me.” I will be the same positive person I was before.

After surgery I waited to hear if the words chemo and radiation would be spoken, but this time—this time—I heard the words: “No further treatment will be needed.”

The wig can stay in the back of the closet, thank God! The pill box is back on the kitchen counter, but the color of the pills have changed. I am truly thankful that a routine pap test had shown there was a problem and a doctor ordered more tests. Twice I’ve been told I had cancer, and twice I have survived.

I see in the mirror a fun-loving, positive, upbeat woman, albeit scarred. I smile at her, and she smiles back. She knows she is a breast-cancer survivor!

Karen Theis

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