[NCSD guest blog post by Ilse Anderson]
We all face daunting challenges at some point in our lives. Whether the crisis involves health, career, or relationships, the initial reaction is always fear. I’m not talking about being scared, which is a natural response to the unknown. Being scared has a purpose: it gets your adrenalin going so you can think clearly and act decisively. Then it passes. Fear, on the other hand, paralyzes you, and if you let it, fear will take up residence in your mind and heart.
Of course I was scared. I had been diagnosed with stage IV oral cancer. From one day to the next, I found myself in a life-or-death struggle with a limited amount of time to decide how I would handle it. I had to set firm boundaries to keep fear at bay because we often focus on the negative in critical situations, and fear feeds on negativity. I had to shut out anything and anyone who would steal my positive outlook.
Nelson Mandela once said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” And, indeed, my decision to undergo a three quarter glossectomy (surgical removal of part of my tongue) reflected my hope for a future with my children and dear friends. While negativity nurtures fear, positivity enables hope. That is why a positive attitude is such a powerful force. But what fosters a positive attitude? The answer is gratitude.
Gratitude forces you to find the positives in your present situation, whatever that may be. For example, I couldn’t travel the world as I always had, but I reveled in seeing the sun rise and set from my window. As part of my recovery, I made “gratitude lists” every day. I learned to appreciate what I had in that moment, and I shifted my focus away from what I did not have. Things I used to take for granted took on the significance they deserved. My life became fuller, even at its lowest point. Gratitude opened me to positive change.
Today, my cancer treatments have ended, but gratitude continues to propel me forward. I look back at my gratitude lists from two years ago and smile. Every step, big or small, had a place on my list: the surgery, my children, a brain that still functioned, the tiny bit of my tongue that remained intact and helped me speak again. Each statement of gratitude led me to today.
Above all, I learned there is nothing to fear. Life is unpredictable. You don’t know when yours will turn upside down. The things you think are important suddenly become irrelevant.
I hope my story will inspire you to live in the present moment. Live in gratitude. Live every day with no regrets. Make each day so wonderful that yesterday gets jealous. Say yes to life!
Ilse Anderson wrote Say Yes to Life about her battle with cancer. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and holds a master’s degree in Latin American studies from Tulane University. She speaks four languages and loves to cook, paint, and travel. She lives in Dallas, TX, and has three adult children: twin daughters and a son. Visit ilseanderson.comfor more information.