The Lessons of Cancer…Giving Thanks

Perhaps you are newly diagnosed or in the midst of grueling cancer treatments.  I write this to bring you hope and encouragement.  It is necessary to give a year to cancer if you need chemo, radiation, and surgery.   When I started it seemed like that year would never end.  But it does, and it will for you as well.  When you are in the  middle of the darkness of the cancer tunnel, it is difficult to see even a few hours at a time.  But once you get out of that tunnel, life takes on a whole new meaning.

Today is the anniversary of my Mastectomy.  Thanksgiving Day was the day I returned home from the hospital.  It was the day I was forced to accept the role of “cancer patient” and officially begin my one year of cancer treatment.  As I reflect over the past year, one thing comes to mind:  I have been deeply and richly blessed.  My former pastor, Fr. Ed Schleter, told me he would give me 5 years to recognize the gifts of cancer.  Hopefully, I am a fast learner and already clearly see so many of these gifts.

I would be depressed if I focused on what I have lost over the past year:  my breast, 14 lymph nodes, my hair, my muscle strength and range of motion, proper functioning of my heart because of an herceptin/chemo heart attack, a few brain functions with onset of chemo brain which are improving, medicine-free living, a life without lymphedema, ongoing side effects of chemotherapy….

It sounds like quite a bit when I write it all down.  Even with all of that, I feel good and am overjoyed to be celebrating Thanksgiving this year.   But let’s talk about what I have gained and for what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Wisdom and Knowledge – My insurance company paid out close to $200,000 and I paid out over $10,000 so far in co-pays, medicines, and incidentals.   I am so grateful for Medical Mutual of Ohio.  Being self-employed, I never dreamed I would have such amazing coverage.  For this, I thank God every day, and for my agent who always discouraged me when I wanted to change insurance companies.  Thank God I listened to his experience!

The wisdom I have gained amounted to so much more than those sums of money could buy, however.  There is no price I can put on what I have learned about cancer, about the strength and stamina of cancer patients, the education, care and concern of medical doctors, nurses, and medical staff, and the love and devotion of family and friends.  The unbelievable care I received at the University of Michigan Breast Care Clinic as I am their biggest cheerleader. Plus, I learned how tough I am through the gift of God’s grace.

My Will to Live – I never would have guessed that I had such a strong will to live.  Had someone asked me before diagnosis, I would have said I probably didn’t care if I lived or died.  I was so wrong.   Something kicked into gear the day I told my Oncologist I wanted to quit chemo and didn’t want to live.   He gave me the gift of compassion and understanding which inspired me to live.  From that day on, I never looked back.  The strength of wanting to live took over.  Never underestimate the gift you give to another with the power of compassion and understanding.

Family and Friends – I was able to receive the amazing gift of the love of my family.   Now that is an incredible thing!  All of them went above and beyond the call of family obligation!  And friends…I received over 350 greeting cards!  I didn’t even know I knew that many people.  My family and friends stood by me, cooked for me, created recipes for me, helped me clean, took me to treatment, sent me flowers, took me to the grocery store, and brought me groceries.  It was my family and closest friends who listened to me even during my horrible, steroid mood swings and angry outbursts, laughed, thought it was funny and didn’t condemn me.  Friends helped me exercise, gave me so many gracious and cherished gifts, visited me at my home, planted my flowers, sent me multiple greeting cards to cheer me, wore pink hair and clothing in my honor,  donated money in my honor, traveled for miles and miles to see me, and called and called and called to make sure I was okay.

Also, I received the great gift of knowing who my closest friends are, the boundaries of my relationships, and what true friendship really is.  So many people never get that opportunity, but I clearly was able to see the clarity of my relationships.   Their love and devotion got me through.

The Gift of One Day – I see the gift of a day so differently now.  I wake up and thank God I am here.  A sense of excitement and eagerness takes over and I think, “What will this wonderful day bring?”

My Blog – How amazing this has been for me.  I get many emails from women going through Breast Cancer.  I cherish each and every one.  Today I heard from a gal who had written me on several occasions while going through Chemo.   She had her PET Scan yesterday and she was cancer free!   Her Oncologist had given her less than a 10% chance last April.  The entire medical team was astonished she is cancer free.  She wrote to thank me for my Blog and my encouragement.   You cannot come up with a better gift to receive than her email!  The tears were flowing down my cheeks as I felt her joy.

I don’t have enough time to write about all of things I am grateful for this Thanksgiving and each day.  My heart overflows with gratitude.  But to give you an idea how the ordinary brings me much joy, I just finished peeling 10 pounds of potatoes.  Before breast cancer, I hated peeling potatoes and let everyone know it.  Now, being able to peel 10 pounds of potatoes was the most fabulous thing I’ve ever done.

Happy Thanksgiving!!



  1. Thank you for making cancer a really great point of reference for life and what is wonderful about every day things. Those of us who have not been cancer patients should know that can change at any time in our lives. Thank you for orienting us and guiding us and helping us stand a chance should we face the challenges you and so many others have faced. Thanks Denise for making Thanksgiving so much more than just a holiday. Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Marie, thank you so very much for posting and letting me know that I can
      even touch non-cancer patients. That means a lot to me! Your words were
      very beautiful and I appreciate them so much. Happy Thanksgiving to you! Denise

  2. Denise, I have seen you over on, and I have posted a lot over there too. I love your blog posts; I am almost at my one year anniversary (Dec. 22) so I can relate to your discoveries so far. I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to share your feelings with all of us out here in Internet land; and your pastor was right, we are coming out the other end of our tunnel! Your blog has helped me identify feelings I am having, some with out even knowing it. Once again, thanks!

    • Diana, thank you so very much for your kind words. I appreciate it so very much.
      I am grateful I can help you and others. It means more than words can express.
      So glad you made it this far and will soon be reaching your one-year mark!!
      Congratulations and Happy Thanksgiving! Denise

  3. Denise, I have been reading your blog for a week or so now. It may seem silly, but I am very grateful for your writing. My own mother passed six years ago from bc and now at 33 I am almost two months into my battle. Thank you for letting me know that there is life on the other side.

    • Wendy, I am so very sorry you lost your mom to this terrible disease and
      now you have to face it at such a young age. I am thankful you are
      two months into it. You will make it and do well. There is life on the
      other side. It does get better. It is so horrible going through it.
      Hugs and Happy Thanksgiving to you! Denise

  4. Talk about tears running down the face!! I’ve said it before, numerous times actually, that you have been given such a gift of being about to write so eloquently and helping us all to understand your journey and what it’s like to be a cancer patient. Thank you so much for sharing so much with all of us. God has blessed us with you – words can’t express the true meaning of this statement. I am SO thankful for YOU!! Happy Thanksgiving, Connie

  5. Hi Dear Denise and Happy Thanksgiving to you. I’m tickled to know you celebrate a year’s anniversary and are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel especially thankful this Thanksgiving as I’m already having chemo #3 on Monday, will have only 1 more to go and no radiation. I feel remarkably good most of the time so I am truly blessed. Thank you for your blog- it’s your gift to us. Take care. Nancy

    • Nancy, thanks so much for writing! I am THRILLED you only have one more chemo to go
      and no radiation to do. Wonderful news! Keep up the great work. You will be feeling
      really good soon! My best, Denise

  6. I started my blog on my 10 year cancerversary which was New Year’s Eve 2011 which was 10 years since diagnosis…I wish there had been blogging back then as I would have told my story as it happened, but perhaps that’s not the divine plan for me…perhaps I’m supposed to tell what it’s like down the line for those who are enduring the difficulties in treatment. I am here for you Denise! I’ve been through everything, double mastectomy, ovaries out, 2 reconstructions and now am on my 3rd…ACT chemo, radiation etc. Please feel free to reach out if you need anything.
    I love that you’re embracing your blessings…keep smiling.
    My best advice: Cry when you need to, smile when you can and always take baby steps forward! xoxo

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