Saturday, April 16, 2016

Resolution Reflections: On Gratitude (Part I)

It's been close to five years since I started writing this blog. I am a very different person now than I was when I began my post-cancer journey. I look back on a lot of what I wrote with mixed reactions. Pride that I've come so far. Disgust that I wrote so naively.

One post in particular fits into the latter category. Over three and half years ago I concluded my resolutions with #4, my resolution to start a family. I wrote: "And when I finally do have the chance to start a family of my own, I hope I'm grateful for the experience I had until that moment. Yes, possibly even cancer."

My only reaction to that statement is this: UGH.

Gratitude is a tricky feeling. It's "an expression of what one has - as opposed to, for example, a consumer-driven emphasis on what one wants." It's a popular thing nowadays. There is a lot of research that says practicing gratitude is good for your health. The New York Times reported that it's "linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners."

It shouldn't surprise me, then, that gratitude, a product of happier times, quickly becomes absent when my mood drops, when circumstances around me change so drastically that I am no longer sure of my place in this world. And recently, my reality has changed. My chances of starting a family the good old fashioned way are low, "close to zero," as my OB GYN put it. Whatever modicum of gratitude I might have felt in the five years since I concluded cancer treatment left me the moment I heard that statistic like a deep exhale. It was replaced with the old, bitter feeling: "WHY ME?"

Only this time, the injustice hit harder. I always managed to believe my life would return to normal after a brief detour through the corridors of Princess Margaret Hospital. And "normal" for me always included children. While fears of infertility have always plagued me, I never dared fathom they would come true. So learning that I may never have children - a direct result of  cancer's poisonous treatment - was then, not just a shock, but an assault on my hopes and dreams

Up until now, cancer has not successfully taken anything away from me. Maybe that's why I so naively expressed gratitude for it. I assumed that my body was still capable of all the things it was before cancer. Which is partly true. I ran a half-marathon. I have gained and lost weight. Hypothyroidism caused by radiation treatment is easily remedied with a small, pink pill. Depression and anxiety are kept at bay with the help of a psychiatrist. The consequences of cancer exist but are managed, allowing me to live a "normal" life.

Except when it comes to having children - at least children that share my DNA.

Which is why I feel no gratitude for cancer today. If cancer is successful in creating some kind of tangent universe where the life I planned to live is no longer on the menu of options - I will not be grateful. I may learn to live a life I didn't choose , but I still get to choose whether or not to be grateful for it. 

And right now, the amount of gratitude I feel is "close to zero."


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