By: Annette McElhiney
I’m grateful to be alive! Seven years ago, I didn’t think I would be. I’m grateful for a husband of 53 years, two wonderful sons and their wives, three delightful grandchildren, a sister, my doctor and her assistant, my scientific advisors and friends at the Clearity Foundation, many other good friends and supporters and my precious Bengal girls (one named Liebee which means love in German, and the other named Hoffiee which means hope.) I wouldn’t be Dancing Joyfully With or Without NED without each of them.
But, perhaps, I’m most grateful to my grandchildren because they have helped me keep my life in perspective after a diagnosis of Stage III Ovarian Cancer in 2008. Like many other cancer patients, I took chemo which caused me to lose my hair. My first grandchild, Max, was 7 at the time. I was afraid he would sneak up on me some day, see his bald Nana and be frightened. So I warned him I’d be bald.
I told him I would be taking some very strong medicine that would make me better. I asked him, “Until my hair comes back, what color wig should I get?” He laughed and said “Blue.” “Blue?” I asked. “No Nana, I was just kidding. I want you to get a wig the same color your hair was before.” I told him I didn’t think I would tell his 2 years younger cousin because I wasn’t sure how she’d react. Max said “No I wouldn’t either Nana as she might freak out.” I was sure he’d slip and tell her sometime, but he never did. Finally when my hair grew partially back in and I was wearing it in spikes, I told Kenzie the truth and she, too, seemed unconcerned.
Several years later, a week after Thanksgiving my son called me to read me the school assignment that Kenzie, that same grand daughter, had written before Thanksgiving in response to the teacher’s question, “What are you grateful for this Thanksgiving?” I’m not quoting her word for word but she said, “I’m thankful for my Nana because she had cancer and now paints pictures in her studio and writes books to make money to help other cancer patients who can’t afford their medicine.”
As for my youngest grandchild, Kiera, who was born on 08/08/08 (the same week I got out of the hospital) she has finally become my buddy. For her first 18 months, I was on chemo, which made me weak and unbalanced. I couldn’t dance with her, swing her around with my arms, or rough house with her as I had with the other kids. But in the past two years, as I’ve gotten stronger, she has gotten friendlier. All 3 grandchildren love to help me paint occasionally in my studio and are quite comfortable with the big scary word, cancer.
In fact, Kenzie likes the large teal Ovarian Cancer ribbon sticker on the back of my car as she can always find it in the soccer parking lot. Children have a wonderful way of brushing away our obsessive negative thoughts about our diseases. They are so accepting and casual about illness, they have helped me accept it.
This Thanksgiving, in addition to the people I love, I’m grateful for my hair, teeth, hearing, sight, mobility, functioning liver, kidneys, moving fingers, toes, appetite, good digestion, and health! Until I had cancer, I never appreciated how important every cell in my body was. Today I’m amazed that the human body can be exposed to such incredible abuse from the chemo that it can recover at all.
So instead of writing more about me in this post, I’m hoping you will sit down and think of all the things you are thankful for this Thanksgiving. Then I hope you will write your list down and share it with loved ones on Thanksgiving Day. Every day I am alive I am grateful and I hope you are as well.
Also, I made my yearly donation to the Clearity Foundation, a non profit that helps ovarian cancer patients get the best and most personalized treatment available. Their dedication to making life better for ovarian cancer survivors and their families is abundant!
But who describes Thanksgiving better than my favorite poet Emily Dickinson? Help me make Thanksgiving better for all of us!
“One Day Is There Of The Series” — By: Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)
One day is there of the series
Termed “Thanksgiving Day”
Celebrated part at table
Part in memory –
Neither Ancestor nor Urchin
I review the Play –
Seems it to my Hooded thinking
Had There been no sharp subtraction
From the early Sum –
Not an acre or a Caption
Where was once a Room
Not a mention whose small Pebble
Wrinkled any Sea,
Unto such, were such Assembly,
‘Twere “Thanksgiving day”