3 Great Reasons To Have Gratitude On Your Cancer Team

When cancer showed up (on top of financial setbacks), I’m sorry to say I did my share of whining. For the most part it wasn’t out loud, but there was a definite lack of gratitude in my heart for much of anything.

There are some concepts, though, that we all sort of know. And one of those concepts is that whining achieves no good. At all. Eventually, gratitude became a critical member of mine and Hubby’s cancer team.

I realize this is the wrong time of the year to be writing a piece on gratitude—after all, Thanksgiving is still 130 days away—but I’ve always thought that the giving of thanks should be a year-round sport.

So I went looking to see if there was any science on the benefits of gratitude. Turns out, there is quite a bit. Here are 3 reasons for recruiting gratitude as a cancer team member:

Mental and physical health. From a Dartmouth article: “Our thoughts can actually trigger physiological changes in our body that affect our mental and physical health. Basically, what you think, affects how you feel (both emotionally and physically).”

Stronger relationships. According to a Psychology Today article, there’s quite a bit of research suggesting that “expressing gratitude strengthens personal relationships of all kinds, including work relationships, personal friendships and romantic relationships.”

Success in the workplace. Erika Andersen, in a Forbes article, writes that “people who are grateful not only seek out more successes, they draw successes into their lives. When you are grateful, others like to be around you. Your appreciation includes and supports them.”

* * *

Marlys Johnson

On Mother’s Day 2014, Daughter Summer sent a book by Ann Voskamp — One Thousand Gifts — about living life fully by counting all the things we’re grateful for.

 In July of that same year, Hubby and I were with Son-in-law Josh, Daughter Summer and the grandkidlets in the beautiful forested village of SunRiver. I was re-reading Voskamp’s book. And counting gifts.


  1. Journaling on a sun-drenched, tree-top deck
  1. Hubby here beside me
  1. Riding bikes along a lazy river
  1. Our personal chef, Summer, cooking grilled apple chicken sausages and homemade mac ’n cheese with smoked gouda, cheddar and mozzarella … because creamy is what sounds good to Hubby’s chemo-laced taste buds

By early September, Hubby had slowed down significantly. But thanksgiving lists continued to roll through my head.

  1. Our friend, Gary, who re-planted the bird feeder so Hubby could see the activity from his hospital bed
  1. Chai tea (one can never be too thankful for Chai tea)
  1. The anticipation of Denver beating San Francisco later today

Lovely co-workers—friends for life—knocked on our front door bearing gifts. My thanksgiving list continued to grow, including these women, these gifts. And more.

  1. Daughter Summer still here
  1. Sunflowers smiling at me from the kitchen
  1. Melinda, the perfect hospice field nurse
  1. Fall colors on dining table – apples, pears, pumpkins, squash, dried leaves, candles lit in golden glass

By November, it had become normal to be up long before sunrise with Hubby. One early morning, as I brought him a cup of steaming tea, he asked what days we could have tea. “Every day’s a good day for tea,” I smiled. He said, Oh, with a blank look on his face. I looked at him tenderly and told him I loved him. “I love you, too. What a stupid question,” he said.

Still on my way to numbering a thousand gifts.

  1. Early-morning risings and the simple pleasure of hot tea together
  1. Every conversation with Hubby, even those that don’t make sense
  1. The privilege of caring for him
  1. The Porch Fairy leaving designer beverages in cheery red cups on our front porch

November 18 was my first full day as a widow. So many text messages, emails, Facebook comments. Beautiful bouquets of flowers. Meals. My thanksgiving list grows even longer from all this incredible, unexpected love.

  1. Peace that continues to be unexplainable
  1. Walking beside my husband until he left his cancer-ridden body for a cancer-free eternity in heaven
  1. Hope following death
  1. Enough funds in beautiful, thoughtfully-written cards to cover funeral home expenses. Amazing. Miracle.

* * *

Looking for things to be grateful for isn’t a Pollyanna-ish strategy. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading scientific expert on gratitude, has this to say: “In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope.”

Energize. Heal. Bring hope. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, Hubby and I thrived during those last months of his life. Which seems an odd word to use — thrived — in referring to walking alongside someone dying. But learning to count all we still had, instead of focusing on all that was slipping away, was key.

You know all those things we appreciate about the people closest to us, but sometimes forget to say out loud? Cancer gave Hubby and me enough time to say all those things. Out loud. And who doesn’t like being appreciated?

What about you? Are you struggling with challenging things in your life? Should gratitude be part of your team?

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