“There is no greater teacher of gratitude than a face to face encounter with our own mortality. For me, cancer has been that teacher, indeed.” –Michele Coriale
I am not angry. I am not afraid. I am not asking “why me?”. I know why me.
Much like many of you, I used to be quick with the “fuck cancer” sentiment—especially after hearing about others’ suffering or succumbing to it. I mean, what else could I say? To me (and so many others), cancer was the worst of the worst. An indefinite sentence of immeasurable suffering. The epitome of a long and painful death.
That was, until it happened to me.
Cancer is not a curse. It’s not a punishment from God or a manifestation of negative thoughts. It’s not something we’ve been holding onto that turns on us with a vengeance.
Cancer is a journey; an experience, if you will. And, like any other experience, we hold the power to make it good or bad.
I’m not gonna lie. This diagnosis of ovarian cancer initially threw me for a loop. An explosion of uncontrollable tears, followed by another explosion of involuntary, operatic screams.
I was beside myself. Traumatized. In shock. In the moment, I was devastated. If God Himself stood before me and told me in His bold, commanding voice that cancer would give me a glorious opportunity to experience gratitude in its truest and most magnificent form, I would not have believed Him for a second.
But, it’s true.
Before being diagnosed with cancer, I was grateful. I was blessed with a full and adventurous life, as well as the means and ability to do a lot of work on healing my self. I practiced yoga, went on retreats, meditated, went to therapy. I worked hard on letting go of any pain and trauma from my past, and on generating gratitude, so that I could live more freely and peacefully.
But, even after all the work I’d done, I felt as if I’d hit a plateau. A plateau that could only be overcome by a face to face encounter with my own mortality.
This encounter has forced me to look at life through a magnifying glass. It’s been a chance for me to observe everyone close to me—including myself—with more compassion, love, acceptance, and less judgement. It’s given me no choice but to “take it all in,” even hours spent sitting in a waiting room at a doctor’s office—a mundane activity, yes, but also a reminder that I am still here, among the living.
Through such intensive examination, I was able to see the things I previously took for granted—and maybe even tried to run away from (before cancer, I kept a gratitude journal on my nightstand, adding five things every evening before going to bed. Now, every second of every day is spent in gratitude. There is just so much to be grateful for!). This examination has allowed me to feel such intense joy and abundance, unlike anything I’ve felt before in my life.
So, dear friends, if you ever find yourself facing such a seemingly dreadful experience, please try and remember these few things:
Do not stay angry. Do not sit in darkness or wallow in self-pity.
Acknowledge and embrace the lessons this experience has for you. Do not lose hope. There is light to be had—light that can actually aid in your healing.
Wishing you a New Year filled with fresh perspectives, as well as a newfound appreciation for life.