April 5th, 2017
| Survivor: Head and Neck Cancer
I was driving home from my job as a hospice volunteer last night, when that feeling washed over me again. When it emerges, the feeling wraps itself around me like a warm blanket. It is unexpected. I know this sounds sappy but it is warm.
This feeling is... gratitude.
Gratitude is something I either chose to ignore most of my adult life as a stressed out corporate executive or something I honestly didn’t experience.
Why? I don’t know. I certainly had plenty of reasons to be grateful: a loving wife of 33 years, two absolutely wonderful daughters and what many would consider a highly respected career. And while I frequently did acknowledge how “lucky” I was, I don’t think that I felt the strong sense of gratitude that I now experience daily, now that I am nine months in remission from cancer.
I won’t deny that my surgeries were excruciating and that the recovery was extremely difficult, but since that time, I almost daily sit for a moment and experience the absolute power of gratitude.
It often comes out of nowhere, like it did last night, driving home from hospice. I thought to myself several things: I am so lucky to be alive, I am so lucky to have had the doctor I did, I am so lucky to have the family that I have, I am so lucky to have the friends I have, and I am so lucky to be in the life I am in.
I am different. In some ways I am not, I can still be petulant and upset that the pizza delivery guy is late. There are still days when I am ticked off a headhunter hasn’t called me back, and I am still accomplished at complaining about something trivial, like we are out of paper towels. If you are slow off a light, I will still beep my horn. And I will admit I enjoy raising my fist at a driver who cuts me off with a few choice swear words thrown in for good measure.
But more often than not, I am more open, understanding and giving as a person.
Surviving cancer has led me to connect with old friends I haven’t spoken to since college, to ignore people and things that are negative, to become a caregiver, to attack my bucket list, and to be a more loving and caring man.
It’s also led me to help others. After cancer, I wanted to give back to the doctors, nurses, staff and fellow patients of cancer at Smilow Hospital. Never in my life did I think I would ever be a hospice worker, but I signed up with Regional Hospice and Pallative Care in Danbury, CT. The training, experience and rewards they have given me are incalculable.
Every day I am a hospice worker I am rewarded by the people I work for and work with. Being a hospice worker has turned me into someone I would not have recognized five years ago. Here is this introvert, marching into rooms, and declaring, “Hi, I’m Rob, I’m your volunteer, you can use me anyway you want. I can sit with your husband, or grab you a coffee or whatever you would like, but for the next five hours I am yours to use as you see fit.” Curious stares slowly turn to grateful looks and smart remarks.
Here is this slightly cold fish (who used to be uncomfortable giving a friend a hug) now holding hands with patients in pain, reading a book of poems to patients who are unresponsive, playing Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” from my Ipad to a dying man in his 90’s.
Here’s the thing about gratitude: it can be easy to experience. Happiness, on the other hand, can be hard to call up every day. That’s a high bar to reach on command. But it is easier for me to find gratitude. There is just so much to be grateful for.
Finally, I’ve noticed that the depth of my gratitude keeps increasing and for that, well for that I am grateful as well.
What's an unexpected feeling you have toward cancer? Tell us in the comments below!
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