This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in Vibrant Life Magazine.
Patty sits in the waiting room chair, hair still boyish thanks to a recent round of chemo, divorced shortly before her diagnosis, mother of two young boys.
She is telling me about her experience with breast cancer. The surprising news. Juggling work and single motherhood. Her eyes spill, not with tears of sorrow or bitterness but thankfulness.
“I’m very independent, but I’ve had to learn to depend on friends and family. Cancer has helped me allow other people into my life,” she says. “Cancer has shown me the power of prayer. Cancer has taught me how to appreciate every single day.”
I would not have guessed, when I started my new job at a cancer treatment center earlier this year, that it would be such a happy place.
Each day patients, in various stages of illness, come to receive the therapy they hope will save their lives. None of them would choose to be here. And yet, again and again they express their gratitude for the simple gifts life brings.
Bob with esophageal cancer speaks of his daughter-in-law, who faithfully took him to daily appointments. Dennis, a prostate cancer patient visiting the center from out of town, is grateful for the employees who make sure his stay is as comfortable as possible and accommodate needed trips back home. Toni is grateful for the doctors and therapists who made her daughter laugh during treatment for a brain tumor. Melvin is simply glad to have his wife, treated for breast cancer earlier this year, alive and well.
Sharon, who works the front desk, is a stage 3 breast cancer survivor—and has the battle scars of a mastectomy, hysterectomy and radiation damage to her heart and lungs to prove it.
Still, she says, “If I had to choose between having cancer and not having cancer, I wouldn’t change anything. I don’t let the little things bother me. I’m a more caring person. I don’t worry about the future. I appreciate what I have right now.”
“You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you,” writes Sarah Ban Breathnack in her book, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy.
Indeed. Scientific research shows gratitude, and in particular the repetitive practice of it, improves a sense of well-being, relieves depression and other mental health disorders, improves sleep, lowers blood pressure—all contributors to better physical and mental health.
Thankfulness is linked to spiritual well-being too.
One study showed that gratitude served as a connecting factor between those who were spiritually inclined and also experienced positive impacts on their health. Another study from the Journal of Religion and Health bears the title: “Spirituality and positive psychology go hand in hand…”
At Provision, thankfulness is typically couched in faith. It’s not that patients haven’t done their share of questioning, been through dark days, wondered “why me?” It’s that, somehow, in that journey of their greatest fears they’ve found peace in not having all the answers, in being grateful for the moment, in trusting God with the rest.
As author Ann Voskamp writes, “When I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.”