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Breast Cancer & Gratitude Can Co-Exist

Photograph by Getty Images

Mom to two little ones and mom.me contributor, Meredith C. Carroll will be sharing her experiences of her recent breast cancer diagnosis, imminent treatments and day-to-day living with the big "c" here on Mom's the Word. Please join us in supporting Meredith and wishing for the easiest path through this challenging journey she and her family are facing.

If you want to feel good about yourself, walk into a cancer treatment center.

Last week my husband and I drove over 400 miles round trip in a single day to meet with a breast surgeon and medical oncologist at one of Colorado’s top hospitals. We were in good spirits in the car both ways—mostly because our kids were not with us, which meant no snacks had to be packed, there was no whining, retrieval of crayons, toys, stuffed animals, water bottles, iPods and wrappers; and no answering the burning questions as can only be posed by a 2- or 5-year-old (“What does g-t-r-k-p-b-q-t spell?” “Nothing.” “No! I know it spells something. You’re just tricking me! You’re just being mean!”)

RELATED: The Cancer Chronicles: Part 3

The doctors and nurses with whom we met all answered the question I posed to each of them in the exact same way:

“If I have to be here, I’m here under the best possible circumstances, right?”

“Yes,” they all replied.

You weave your way down the sterile passageways and pass by patients whose faces are obscured by surgical masks, those with oxygen tanks accompanying them like an extra limb and others with bald heads whose luster rival that of the freshly mopped floors. When you know that in all probability you are expected to be as close to cured as possible at the end of your journey down the same hallways, you get quiet—and thankful—really fast.

A year ago this month one of my best friends lost her 17-month-old son suddenly and unexpectedly. Max was older by four weeks, to the day, than my younger daughter, and his loss affected me profoundly—and not just in the way that my soul hemorrhaged for his family. It made me rethink entirely how I’m parenting my own kids.

The strange part for me right now is feeling appreciativeness for my own diagnosis.

To live every day as if it might be the last for you or a loved one is not plausible, or at least not for very long. But borrowing the rose-colored lens of someone else who has experienced tragedy or heartache and taking a peek through it allows you to linger longer, kiss more frequently, hug tighter, listen better and speak with more purpose. Really, mostly, just because you can. Your appreciation for what you have and who you love deepens as you realize there are others who would give everything for even a fraction of your opportunities for emotional expression and physical touch.

In 2013 I also watched as a childhood friend lost her battle to melanoma, and I have been watching a dear friend fight tooth and nail against Stage 4 breast cancer.

I know what it’s like to get news that changes the color of the sky in your world—like when in 1999 my dad told me he had prostate cancer, or when I finally realized I would have a baby of my own after suffering three miscarriages. When the possibility of deep loss is dangled in front of you, you take stock of what you have with even more gratitude.

It’s not uncommon for me to lie down at night and acknowledge my thankfulness for the health of my loved ones; I never want the day to come when one of them is missing and I kick myself for not appreciating what and who I had, when I had it and them.

The strange part for me right now is feeling appreciativeness for my own diagnosis. As benign as it might be in comparison to others, it’s still malignant. I sat in synagogue on Friday night as the year anniversary of Max’s passing was commemorated and during a silent prayer, I found myself easing into a prayer for my own health. It dawned on me that it might have been the first time I’ve ever actually prayed for me. It felt oddly selfish, except when I realize that my goal is to continue to do my part to ensure my children’s happiness and well-being for as long as possible.

RELATED: The Cancer Chronicles: Part 2

Enjoying long car trips without my kids is only possible because I know how painful it is with them. And that they’ll be back in their car seats the next time we go somewhere.

My life changed forever the moment my biopsy results were delivered to me. But what I’m learning on a PhD kind of level—besides how willing other women are to show you their boobs if you just ask nicely—is that having perspective when you least need it makes you much more able to draw from it when you need it most.

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