November 4, 2010 (San Diego's East County) -- When it comes to giving thanks, cancer survivors and their loved ones usually have a full plate. For those who have battled cancer, simply having another sunrise...that's a blessing to be savored and shared. Author Joni Aldrich lists five ways to share the blessings—along with the dressing—during this season of thanks.
For many of us, with all the hustle and bustle of our daily activities, we sometimes overlook the things that we should be thankful for. But there are times in our lives when the words "thanks" and "giving" do become important again. This is never more true than when a loved one or friend has been diagnosed with cancer or is in the middle of a long cancer battle. Author Joni Aldrich believes that this Thanksgiving we should concentrate on the goodness that resonates through the millions of cancer survivors in our country today.
"I've found that—even though the 'chips' may be down—cancer patients are the most appreciative people on earth," says Aldrich, author of The Saving of Gordon: Lifelines to W-I-N Against Cancer (Cancer Lifeline Publications, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-4392550-3-2, $19.95, www.thecancerlifeline.com).
"While everyone is going around the table asking for prayers of Thanksgiving, one person might be glad to have a couple days off work, while another is simply thankful for a new love interest in her life. When you get to the loved one at the table who is a cancer patient, he may very well be glad for that clinical trial he was accepted into. And that may bring a long pause from everyone else. When it comes to being thankful, it's all a matter of perspective."
Aldrich knows about the subject of cancer and its ramifications. In 2006, she lost her husband, Gordon, after a two-year battle with cancer. The Saving of Gordon tells the story of the Aldrich family's experiences while simultaneously offering valuable step-by-step advice that will give readers the tools they need to have a fighting chance against cancer.
In some cases, the harsh reality is that you don't know whether or not a loved one or friend will be with you next Thanksgiving. Aldrich suggests not focusing too far into the future. "This is a hard topic for me because my family may very well be in that situation with my mother this coming Thanksgiving," says Aldrich, whose mother is currently fighting cancer. "Here's how we're going to handle it: Savor today. Savor this memory. Make the best of every moment. And count it as a blessing to have her here today."
Read on for how you can make the most of this Thanksgiving as a cancer survivor or as a loved one who is happy to share another holiday with a cancer survivor.
A little rain must fall. Emotions are a natural part of giving thanks. If a few tears fall, then everyone will know one very important fact: We all have feelings.
"It is easy to put off all thoughts of cancer during the holidays after you or a loved one has been diagnosed. Many family members will avoid the issue with fervor," Aldrich shares. "But avoiding the topic altogether can have consequences, too. Cancer isn't a convenient disease that you can schedule around your holidays. Whether it's one, two, or three years after a diagnosis, these are emotional times for most families. Offset that by realizing that it's okay to talk, cry, and discuss concerns about the cancer ups and downs."
Humor will help you move forward. Use humor to temper the lingering feelings of heartfelt emotions. Humor is always appropriate, especially at family gatherings. Poking fun at each other can be a great tension buster. Most families find that humor helps them to get through the hard times with some lighthearted camaraderie.
"We've all heard that laughter is the best medicine," Aldrich points out. "Thanksgiving is not an exception to that rule. A smile can help to push away even the most difficult moments. That may mean that you have to paste it on for the day, but do your best to make it genuine."
Make changes, if necessary. With your dinner preparations, try to keep as much "status quo" as you can—with some exceptions. If there are foods or smells that bother the cancer patient, you might want to make a substitution. If adjustments are necessary, try not to focus on them and remember that change can be fun. After all, the main focus should be the opportunity to give thanks and not that the turkey is too dry or the rolls are burned.
"Make any changes as seamless as you possibly can," Aldrich suggests. "If the family member with cancer can't travel to you, change the Thanksgiving venue to their place. During food preparation, it's always a good idea to pay close attention to sanitary issues. When you're preparing food for a cancer patient, this becomes doubly important. And—last, but not least—family members with any contagious diseases should either wear a face mask or stay away from the patient."
Make "love" the special ingredient. This Thanksgiving, make love a big part of your agenda. It's not enough to add love to the food; make it your mission to add it to every aspect of the holiday.
"We're all so busy these days, most of us don't even take time to be with family during Thanksgiving," Aldrich points out. "In our helter-skelter world, we rush about without time to breathe—much less to appreciate the one gift that will always be there for us no matter what: family. Our kinfolk give essential love and support in any hard situation—especially during a cancer battle. So, sometime after the cancer patient gives thanks for the hospital and oncologists who helped her to be there, she should take time to focus on the really important gift of family and good friends."
Count your blessings. Let's just face it—every year of our lives is a smorgasbord of good and bad experiences. Thanksgiving is a conduit to share both. They're all chopped up into a gravy of happy and sad memories. So, whether your year was more livers, gizzards, or hearts, take time to appreciate the hearts.
"As Forrest Gump said: 'Life is like a box of chocolates.' This sums it up pretty well—you never know what each year will bring. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving this year with our friends and family, be thankful for all of their hearts. Take the opportunity to realize that each personal challenge—though we don't like them—makes our combined hearts stronger," says Aldrich. "This Thanksgiving, plan your holiday with those you love. Give hugs and kisses all around. Accept the livers and gizzards (whether you eat them or not), but dwell on the heart of giving thanks for every blessing."
"Thanksgiving of 2005 was a special holiday for me," reflects Aldrich. "It was the last Thanksgiving that my husband and I shared together. We didn't celebrate with turkey, but with friends who were also facing a battle with cancer. You see, it's not about dreading the months or days to come; it's about celebrating what you have today. That's what got me through that Thanksgiving with fond memories that I keep to this day."
About the Author:
Joni James Aldrich believes that she has been preparing to write The Saving of Gordon for most of her life. As a child, she was a better than average student. She wrote dramatic poetry. Before college, she worked at a newspaper. In her professional career, she has worked in analysis, documentation, communications, and public speaking. She has also been able to incorporate her love of photography into the design of the books. However, her real motivation for writing this book was two years of crisis in the cancer school of hard knocks. She feels it is her destiny to relay this story to readers in a way that will help them in their own cancer journeys. It is her hope that someday that journey will no longer be necessary for anyone.
Joni is also the author of The Cancer Patient W-I-N Book: Our Cancer Fight Journal and The Losing of Gordon: A Beacon Through the Storm Called "Grief."
About the Book:
The Saving of Gordon: Lifelines to W-I-N Against Cancer (Cancer Lifeline Publications, 2009, ISBN: 978-1-4392550-3-2, $19.95, www.thecancerlifeline.com) is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.