Cancer Gratitudes

Cancer Gratitudes

A few of my thoughts

You know how we say that something resonates with us? The word literally means that it reverberates, creates an echo in us. That is how I felt when the moment I saw this absolutely spot-on cartoon by Teva Harrison. I felt that it was ping-ponging around inside me, ricocheting with support and understanding. When someone expresses my feelings so exactly, it creates a moment of intense communion. I feel as though our souls meet, touch, move on. I am honored and delighted that Teva allowed me to post it here.

Teva Harrison describes herself as “an ad hoc arts operative… an equal-opportunity maker living in Toronto. She’s in love with the natural world & fascinated by the spaces between (people, places, & ideas), & the way technology is changing our relationships. Her drawings are freeform explorations of evolving ideas. Teva’s ongoing graphic memoir explores everything from her magic-filled hippie childhood to what it means to live with metastatic breast cancer.”

What particularly struck me was Teva’s articulation of “cancer gratitudes” as a list of “at least” statements.

“At least…”

I think it must be human nature to look for something, anything, to break up the unrelieved burden of certain dire situations.

* Our house was destroyed, but at least we all got out alive.
* They took all my money, but at least they didn’t hurt me.
* I am hungry, but at least I have a roof over my head.
* I have no home, but at least I have a friend.
* …at least the children are safe.
* …at least the gas lines didn’t explode.
* …at least I have my health.

That seems to be the bottom line in dire situations: at least I have my health. But it’s not, really. Because when we no longer have our health what happens? We find new bottom lines. Mine is I have advanced, metastatic cancer but at least it’s still only in my bones, and also, …but at least I live in a country with excellent, accessible, almost free health care. For someone else it might be …at least I have a supportive family or …at least I can get a disability pension.

Once, during an online conversation with several other people with metastatic breast cancer, several of us were saying things like, “I only have bone mets. I can’t imagine what it’s like for you, with liver mets.” Others were saying, “I have brain mets, but it doesn’t hurt. I don’t know how you guys with bone mets live with the pain,” and “I live alone and have to take care of myself, but at least don’t have to take care of small children. How do you manage?”

Everyone seems to have an “at least”. Teva calls it the silver lining. Some people call it making a gratitude list or counting your blessings or shifting your focus. Whatever you call it, it seems to be a natural reaction for many people and a helpful one even for people (like me!) for whom it doesn’t come easily.

Do you have an “at least”? What is it?

Image copyright: Teva Harrison Be sure to check out her graphic memoir and blog at tevaharrison.com.

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42 Responses

  1. Beth Gainer says:

    Fantastic cartoon and fantastic post, Knot! I never thought of these “at leasts” until you pointed it out in your post. I do it all the time: “At least I’m alive,” and “At least I have treatment for my PTSD unlike in the 1950s where there wouldn’t be adequate treatment,” and “At least I have medical insurance.” Wonderfully insightful post, as always.

  2. Caroline says:

    That one kills me ‘At least you have your health’…. What health? My health sucks. At least I am still here is a bit better. Or ‘at least my pain wasn’t that bad yesterday’.

    Some days I struggle with my optimism. It often boils down to how well I slept. A silver lining for me is ‘I did get a good night’s sleep’.

    And I love the cover image.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Sleep is a huge one, Caroline! A good night’s sleep will set me up for days!

      Yes, Teva’s work is just spot on.

  3. Kathi says:

    Brilliant. And you can add that other bromide, “It could be worse…” which is often followed by another one of those “at least” statements, like, “At least I still have my arms and legs.” Gawd. I make jokes about these statements with my patients. We should make a list of guerilla “at least” statements, like, “At least they knocked me out when they amputated my breast.” “At least my chemo nurse doesn’t have bad breath.” Etcetera. You get the idea. Because, you know, “At least we can still laugh.”

    If I feel the need to remind myself to count my blessings, I try to avoid beginning them with “at least.” I don’t know if that makes the exercise any better. It still doesn’t make me feel like I’ve found a silver lining, really. More like I’m trying to find a plank to hold onto in the midst of the storm so I don’t drown. Maybe that’s why we do it. I do admit I have heard myself saying, “At least I still have my sense of humor.”

    Love Teva. Love you. xoxo

    • Knot Telling says:

      I love the idea of guerilla “at least” statements!

      I think you’re right about this kind of statement being a plank that we hold on to so we don’t sink, and I think that’s fine. It’s coping.

      What a coincidence. I love Teva and I love you, too.

    • “At least we can still laugh”… yes, that. 🙂

  4. I do this “at least” thing, and I am sooooo NOT an optimist. But as Kathi said, maybe it is trying to find a plank to hang onto.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Oh, I don’t think it has anything to do with optimism. I think it’s straight out coping, hanging on to Kathi’s plank.

  5. Rebecca says:

    Love this cartoon! And your posts.

    I shifted from “the Big D” (Denial) to “At Least.” I think there is an order of things depending on how bad the situation gets for us in life – at least for me. I didn’t use a lot of “At Least” statements when my life was “better” than what I presently have today. But I was in denial about a lot of things. Now that mortality has knocked on my door, The Big D packed up his bags and left. So the next thing I can hold on to, in order to be able to keep going (like denial allows us to), is to use the word “At least.” So I know I am not as unlucky as I think I am. It helps.

    • Knot Telling says:

      That’s an interesting take on it, Rebecca. I’m glad you’ve found a way that works for you. 🙂

  6. The at least that bothers me is external, when someone says to me, “at least you’re not as bad off as so-and-so.” I get no pleasure knowing someone is in worse shape than I am. Similarly, I don’t like when friends and family cut themselves off from complaining about their troubles and ailments, as if they shouldn’t be compared to mine. I care about them and their problems…as long as they are more serious than a hangnail or an iffy wifi connection.

  7. Colleen says:

    Omg does this ever resonate with me! After eight years of this complete and utter bull shit and being diagnosed/treated for an all new late stage cancer last year and shattering my ankle due to bone mets I have to admit….I’m running out of freaking at leasts! But, I have two children whom I am bound and determined to see into adulthood and AT LEAST I’m still here for that. As Monty Python said, “I’m not quite dead yet!” And at least I’ve found a bevy of beauties in all of you who know the reality of living with the Grim Reaper trying to find your address–keep on moving!

    • Knot Telling says:

      Colleen, I’m really sorry that you’re a member of the club, but pull up a plank and hang on. We’ll swim around together.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Yeah, but when I hear, “at least I’m not as bad off as Stephanie”, I have to scratch my head in wonder. For someone so sick, I’m still having a really good time. My sense is that gratitude contributes, because it helps to keep me in appreciation and in present time.

    I often think, I’d rather be having a good time in a sick body than having a bad time in a healthy body – but then get to practice compassion for the suffering of my emotionally challenged loved ones. And I know that many people are having bad times in sick bodies…more compassion.

    Knots, is this part of your survivor guilt series?

    I keep feeling all roads lead through humor, grief and forgiveness to love and acceptance.

    Life is so much not the way we want it to be. And so much the way it is.

    I wish you were nearby and we could settle in for a cup of tea and conversation.

    warm wishes from afar – Stephanie

    • Knot Telling says:

      No, Stephanie, this isn’t part of the guilt series. That was so gut wrenching for me to write, that I have to take a bit of a break from it. I’ll come back to it, though.

      We can always have virtual tea and conversation. 🙂

  9. Diane says:

    At least we have you Knot 🙂

  10. Aliza Bat-Ami says:

    Is it selfish of me – who doesn’t have breast cancer – to say to you, who does and suffers, at least I still have my friend?

    • Knot Telling says:

      Selfish? No! It is precious and I thank you for it. Metastatic breast cancer is pernicious; it affects our loved ones as much as it affects us – just differently.

  11. Kimberly says:

    I love this post. Soooo many “At least I” things came out of my mouth… Thanks for this post. xx

  12. Great post. I think it is a way of trying to find that ‘plank’ to hang on to when we say these things to ourselves. A situation in which I found it totally irritating was when a doctor said to me when I was telling him about my issues taking an AI – “at least you’re still alive”… Yeah, I agree, but… That pissed me off when he said it. Thanks for the post.

    • Knot Telling says:

      I’d be annoyed, too! The at-leasts are for us to set for ourselves. Outside people, shhh!
      It is not too much to wish to be alive without issues from the meds.

  13. You know how much I love both you and Teva… this is brilliant, the merging of talents. I have heard a few “at least” statements through the years, I don’t think I’ve stated one myself. I suppose it would be, at least I still have treatment options. My silver linings are the relationships I have with family and friends, love all around, baby. xoxo

    • Knot Telling says:

      Relationships are the best silver linings I can think of.

      I think Teva and I are both pleased with the venture. We just may do it again – only this time on purpose from the get-go.

  14. Colleen Logan Hofmeister says:

    Instead of virtual tea could I be so bold as to suggest we all partake in a virtual happy hour? Body shots, pool boys and all!

  15. Julie Frayn says:

    It’s strange that posts like these make me feel like the odd one out. The non-cancer nerd who peeks in from the sidelines at all the cool cancer kids. A very strange feeling indeed. Because clearly, I don’t want to be that cool. I wish none of you were that cool. Every time I think of how hard my day was, how tough it is dealing with the progression of Mom’s Alzheimer’s, I think of all of you and my mind toys with “at least I don’t have cancer.”

    I love you all.

  16. Maxine D says:

    I may not have MBC , or any type of cancer, but I can hear you all – loud and clear!!
    There are times though when I use the “at least” statement in my life, not so much applying to myself but my spouse. That ‘plank’, and humour, keep us both afloat.
    Blessings and prayers and gentle {{{{{cyber hugs}}}}}, Knots.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Maxine, I think that spouses and caregivers suffer just as we do, only in a different way. Hanging on to the planks and finding a way to laugh – a great recipe for survival into abundant life.

    • Knot Telling says:

      I think caregivers and spouses suffer as much as we do, just in a different way. It’s sure that hanging on to those “planks” and finding a way to laugh are key to suvival into abundant life!

  17. Elizabeth J. says:

    My “at least” is when I hear women younger than me worry about seeing their kids grow up. Then I tell myself how very blessed I am because “at least” I have seen my kids reach adulthood.

    • Knot Telling says:

      Oh, I know! One of my “at-leasts” is that I became ill at 48 and not in my 20s.

  1. 17 May, 2015

    […] powerful reminder by Nancy that you are not your disease while Knot and Beth that platitudes just don’t cut […]

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