Monthly Archives: May 2013

How to Get to Gratitude after Cancer

When Dorothy Donoghue finished cancer treatment two years ago, a wave of relief and calmness flooded her.
“I remember, it was May 9th, and I was very happy.”
But then the uncertainty crept in, the nagging unanswerable questions and the fears that followed them.
“The fear of living with recurrence and how to get back to normal living, the hair loss, all that was an adjustment. And even though hair loss was a superficial part of the process, it was indicative of the fact that I had had cancer. Every time I looked in the mirror it was a reminder that I was a different person.”
Dorothy retired from a job she loved as a school guidance counselor in December 2009. She was still struggling with what to do with her newfound freedom when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2010.
“I was trying to find meaning and purpose in my life, how to fill my time, when the cancer came and took over,” she said.
With no immediate family nearby, she relied mainly on friends to get her through treatment.
Those friendships strengthened through her battle. She said grappling with what had happened to her and getting to her “new normal” took time with a series of small steps.
“I found I really recovered very well physically from chemo and radiation. It was the psychological and emotional part that took a greater amount of time.”
She reached out to support groups, read and took advantage of classes offered at Morristown Memorial Hospital geared to cancer survivors – such as Reiki, meditation and other workshops.
“I found I had to sift through what was making me anxious and what was helping me build and move forward.”
About a year after treatment ended, Dorothy said, “I found I was thinking less about the cancer and enjoying more of my life.”
Now she finds she has rearranged the priorities in her life, and she’s more selective about how she spends her time.
“I have a greater sense of gratitude. It’s an important part of my life to be grateful for all the good things I have in my life, especially family, friends, and a growing awareness of the peacefulness that comes from nature. I love to walk outside and appreciate being surrounded by a world of beauty and quietness.”
She’s also developed a deeper empathy for people going through cancer diagnoses and treatments. Her advice to anyone facing a new cancer diagnosis is “to be patient and to deal with everything one step at a time. When you’re first diagnosed you want to speed up the clock but it moves very slowly; you have to be good to yourself in whatever ways you can.
Dealing with cancer is a traumatic experience. For me it was important to talk with people who shared that experience and who helped me through the ups and downs of a difficult time.”
But now, almost three years later, she finds that she “focuses on enjoying life each day. I try to spend time doing the things that make me happy and pursuing new goals for the future.

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