BY: Jennifer Angarano-Ricci – “Ms. Happy, Alive & Built to Survive”

Well, you know, this has been one hell of a year for my family and me. On
October 30, 2017, I was diagnosed with cancer. On November 14, I had surgery
and was declared cancer-free (I am choosing to use this date as my anniversary
date). At the end of November, I found out that I would have to have chemo
before radiation, due to the aggressiveness of the tumor removed, and due to me
being (relatively) young. After I finished radiation in July of this year, we found
out that my father was having a recurrence of prostate cancer (after 14 years,
dammit), and that he would need to have radiation treatments. You’re probably
thinking, “Where does it end?!” – but I’ve been thinking, “What have I learned?”

November is the month of Thanksgiving, and pretty much everyone and their
mother does a 30-day thankfulness challenge on Facebook. I’m not knocking
anyone’s ability to feel gratitude, but I often wonder WHY is it only in November
that these challenges pop up? Because of Thanksgiving? I mean, yeah, it’s a
holiday and all, but why are we not openly being thankful EVERY DAY?  Here at The Daily Feels, a 30-Day Gratitude Challenge was initiated- but I know that this challenge is geared towards being a spring-board into a daily feeling of gratitude that lasts year-round.

But back to me: Now that I have met the one-year milestone of my cancer diagnosis, and I am quickly approaching my first cancer-free anniversary, what have I learned about gratitude, and how has it made me feel thanks more deeply than ever?

I’ll begin with the gift of Family. This was a big learning experience for me because I like to take care of everything and not totally rely on others. My family stepped up BIG TIME and showed me how much love they have for me, and how much I have for them. As a 45-year-old woman, I really thought that I could handle everything- but I had NO IDEA what cancer was going to do to me emotionally and mentally- forget about the physical part! On the day I took my bandages off after surgery, I found myself sitting on the toilet, crying my eyes out.  And you know what? My mother was on the ground, holding me while I cried, telling me not to worry because she was going to take care of me. From that
moment, I started to open myself up to let other people take care of me.  Me…the woman who always takes care of everyone else. Everyone in my family helped out, whether it was taking me to appointments, cooking or ordering food, doing school drop offs and pickup, and even just calling or texting to see how I was. It was amazing, and really brought home how blessed I am to have family close to me, and to have a close family. Being thankful for my family doesn’t even scratch the surface of how I feel.

Of course, being thankful for my friends comes next. You know those Facebook
friends you have, but never see? Well, let me tell you something- THEY’RE REAL,
and they’re really awesome! Local friends brought gifts (occasionally of matzo
ball soup, I might add), sent cards, called and texted. Other friends farther away
were always checking up, and a few sent packages-which were wonderful mood
boosters! All of this makes me think of the phrase, “It takes a village…”.  It DOES
take a village- to raise a child, and also to take care of each other and get each
other through anything. We’re all connected, and we need to always look for the
light in one another, rather than the differences.

Lastly, I am thankful for Patience. B.C (Before Cancer), I had always been a
patient person, or so many told me. I feel joy in helping others, and teaching
people how to do things, etc. and never really rushed anyone along. A.C. (After
Cancer, of course!), I really learned what it is to practice patience like I never have
before. We rush through our lives thinking that we’re patient, until we get put
into a situation that teaches us what patience really is. I realized during tests,
surgeries, and treatments that patience isn’t waiting for something or someone
without having a fit- it’s allowing things to occur in their own time and trusting in
the process. You can’t rush through healing, you can’t hurry up a chemo
treatment, and you can’t forge through radiation, without allowing your body to
work through its adjustments to each situation. And also- even now I look at
myself and think, “hurry up hair! Grow longer already!” knowing that it’s grown a
lot in six months and that it will eventually be back to the hairstyle that I like.
Patience is the key to everything, and though it takes continuous practice- it’s
worth it.

There’s no reason why each of us can’t feel thanks every day for, well, ANYTHING.
You woke up, someone else didn’t- be thankful. You have a place to sleep,
clothes to wear, food to eat, someone who cares about you, there are those who
don’t. Be thankful.

I had cancer and had a rough year, but I’m alive and on my way to full healing- I
am thankful.  I want to leave you all with a phrase from my favorite song at this time of year, Thankful, by Josh Groban:

“It’s up to us to be the change, and even though this world needs so much more- there’s so much to be thankful for.”

Jennifer Angarano Ricci is a wife, mother & creative soul-searcher.  She is a musician, artist, and baker, and runs her home business Baked By Jen, in addition to running her local community theater group.  She loves to sing, create and help others, and tries to connect all three passions whenever possible.

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