This was a tough Thanksgiving. Two months ago, my mother was diagnosed with Glioblastoma multiform. It’s a stage 4 brain cancer. As if the words “Stage 4” and “brain cancer” aren’t bad enough, they were followed by the words “aggressive” and “terminal”.
Now, my mom is only 59 years old. She was a perfectly healthy adult, traveling the world, and living her life, when suddenly she couldn’t remember where she was, the day (or year or season), write down a telephone number, or even read. I had never realized before how quickly life could change, but suddenly here we were in this strange alternate universe where my mom had terminal cancer.
At first, we fell into confusion, chaos, and despair as we tried to come to terms with the end of life as we knew it and with the painful knowledge that my mother would probably not have the opportunity to be an old woman. But it was not something I could come to terms with, even though I intensely questioned the meaning of life. I desperately wanted myself, my mother, and the world to know the kind of person she was and the impact she’s made on so many lives. My mom never met a person without thinking, “How can I help?”, and help she did.
As the intensity passed, I discovered that my mother’s illness softened us and opened our hearts. We could see others’ pain more easily, accept and celebrate their flaws more willingly, judge less often, and forgive spontaneously.
This Thanksgiving, the whole family came together. My sister and her husband. My husband. And throughout the evening, a pervasive feeling of gratitude for my family partnered with a deep sadness as I wondered if we would have another Thanksgiving together. So this Thanksgiving, as I think about what I’m grateful for, I am tempted to add cancer to the list, because it has deepened the love we have for each other and made us stronger. At the same time, I’m not quite ready. It’s still a little too painful, and, at times, I’m still a little too angry at the disease to welcome it with an open heart.
I don’t know how I’ll end up feeling about this disease as time goes on, but for now, I thought I’d share with you a simple gratitude and thankfulness for life. It is in us and all around us. It is precious. Fragile. Tenacious. Thank you for sharing a portion of your life with me.