Is Giving Thanks All That Hard?

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Is giving thanks all that hard, when it’s been a difficult year? It is almost impossible, given we have a hostile political climate, 24-7 news cycles, anxiety, an uncertain future, and unsure about what is coming next. The list of bad things out there is endless and unfortunately negativity is the new normal. One can be swallowed whole if there are no silver linings. Finding your own sliver of happiness is challenging, especially when life gets in the way. I should know, I am a glass half empty type of person.

This time of year has always been one of overindulgence – consuming a plethora of carbohydrates, delicious and countless sweets, drinking festive drinks. And lets’ not forget the abundance of shopping. After the festivities, without fail, I am so disgusted with how I managed to exceed the recommended caloric intake for the year, in the span  a few weeks that I vowed never again. And each year I would like to think I take stock of what is really important and try to be grateful, as the goal is to be the glass is half full type of person. I know, old habits die hard. It got me thinking, really thinking about being thankful. It is never easy coming to terms that some things about ourselves need improvement. We call them resolutions, those unrealistic changes, the ones we silently say to ourselves ’this year will be different’. This year, self-reflection came earlier than New Years and the obligatory introspection. Sure, I already know I need to eat better, go to the gym more, be kinder, more altruistic, and most importantly, be more present. I vote for all the above and hope for the best. This year, though, is quite different. I have a great deal to be thankful for.

As I write this, Thanksgiving weekend has just concluded. I think of Thanksgiving as a day to remind ourselves of what we have, thankful for another day with loved ones, for the understanding that we are not perfect, and the realization of our own flaws, and the understanding that there is always room for improvement. It sounds like I am confusing Thanksgiving for New Year’s Eve and unfulfilled resolutions? Maybe.

As I alluded to, this year was challenging. On one hand, I have countless things in my life to celebrate – a good job, a roof over my head, a loving husband, supportive family, a network of friends, and something I am beyond proud of, my smart, intelligent, motivated offspring. I have witnessed my son being inducted in several honor societies, all while working a part-time job, and managing a pretty impressive GPA. (I know, I know, total Mom Brag) This was more than I could possibly hope for and something my immature high-school self was completely incapable of achieving. My lows were abysmal when aggressive Cancer reared its ugly head into my parents’ world. Cancer changes you, even if you're not the one afflicted. Within months of each other, both parents underwent surgery, medical intervention, and subsequent treatments. I could lament about how awful the surgeries and treatments were, and trust me, they were downright awful, I won’t. Here’s the thing, so much good came out of a really horrible situation. Early diagnosis, incredible and gifted surgeons, caring Oncologists, friendly nurses, the list goes on of how grateful I am to these people. Friends started a meal train for my family, neighbors of my parents became surrogate family, colleagues at work covered for me when I had to be at the hospital, all so important and helped me personally get through the year. Our community took care of us, when we couldn’t. It was overwhelmingly beautiful to say the least. And, my family couldn’t have done it without them. When you are given news that changes the trajectory of your loved ones lives, it alters your outlook, on so many different levels.

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As I alluded to, this year was challenging. On one hand, I have countless things in my life to celebrate – a good job, a roof over my head, a loving husband, supportive family, a network of friends, and something I am beyond proud of, my smart, intelligent, motivated offspring. I have witnessed my son being inducted in several honor societies, all while working a part-time job, and managing a pretty impressive GPA. (I know, I know, total Mom Brag) This was more than I could possibly hope for and something my immature high-school self was completely incapable of achieving. My lows were abysmal when aggressive Cancer reared its ugly head into my parents’ world. Cancer changes you, even if you're not the one afflicted. Within months of each other, both parents underwent surgery, medical intervention, and subsequent treatments. I could lament about how awful the surgeries and treatments were, and trust me, they were downright awful, I won’t. Here’s the thing, so much good came out of a really horrible situation. Early diagnosis, incredible and gifted surgeons, caring Oncologists, friendly nurses, the list goes on of how grateful I am to these people. Friends started a meal train for my family, neighbors of my parents became surrogate family, colleagues at work covered for me when I had to be at the hospital, all so important and helped me personally get through the year. Our community took care of us, when we couldn’t. It was overwhelmingly beautiful to say the least. And, my family couldn’t have done it without them. When you are given news that changes the trajectory of your loved ones lives, it alters your outlook, on so many different levels.


Family Honor Society Ceremony

Without having the tools on how to deal with the new reality, you reach for anything that takes root and gives you hope. My entire extended family were contacting friends, friends of friends, really anyone who could connect us with the best of the best and what treatments were most successful. When you are starting at zero, there is a long way to go and fast. As some of you know, I used to work at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a private, non-for-profit Laboratory that leads research and educational programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant and quantitative biology. Not only did I work there for 10 years in the Meetings & Courses office, my mother, had an illustrious 28 year career there, leading the Grants Department. I reached out to our former bosses, David Stewart, Executive Director of Meetings & Courses and Bruce Stillman, President and CEO of the lab. Within 30 minutes of hitting the send button, I received a reply from both Bruce and David, putting us in touch with the lead MD/PhD and Principal Investigator of Pancreatic Cancer, Dave Tuveson, as well as The CEO of the Lustgarten Foundation, and my sister's friend Pam, who is actively involved in PANCAN, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Tears of joy.

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I realize that looking through rose colored glasses is unrealistic. When things are not going my way, or when I’m upset, I can pull this tremendous nugget out of a hat, to remind myself that one year ago, we were given unimaginable news, with a very bleak prognosis. Being dealt with life altering news, changes one’s perspective about your own life and the choices we make.

So, back to my original question – Is giving thanks all that hard, when it’s been a difficult year? Absolutely! Sometimes, we might have to dig deeper to find the good in the bad. THAT is my take-away. Having hope in what seems like a hopeless situation is something we all need to get us through the day. Seeing the good in others, especially those who helped get us to tomorrow, is what I am most thankful for. Thanksgiving was most definitely celebrated, not together, but certainly as a whole.

Some recent photos of the family.  We all celebrated at our family reunion in June 2018.

If you are moved by this and are so inclined to help, please donate to the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, or PANCAN – The Pancreatic Action Network.

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