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COVID-19Holidays & Cancer

After a Year of Adversity, Gratitude Is Healing

2020 was a hard year for everyone, including patients with cancer who faced new challenges in these unprecedented times. As we reflect on this difficult year, it’s important to practice gratitude actively.
Web Exclusives – December 1, 2020

When you consider that COVID-19 has been discussed since January, the first stay-at-home orders were issued in the middle of March, and the number of new cases has continued to spike through November, it’s not an exaggeration to say that society has been consumed by the coronavirus for the entire year.

The pandemic has affected every person in this country, either directly or indirectly. Families have lost loved ones. Businesses have closed. Jobs have been lost. Education has been turned upside down. Vacations, weddings, and other special events have been cancelled or postponed. Something as simple as hugging your grandchildren could be considered a high-risk activity.

Throw in an ultra-bitter presidential election, and 2020 has been one for the ages.

For patients with cancer, 2020 has been even more challenging. Routine appointments and surgeries were delayed. “No-companion” rules at hospitals forced many patients with cancer to experience difficult treatments on their own.

Because certain types of treatment leave patients immunocompromised, isolation was necessary to prevent exposure to COVID-19. Support group meetings were moved to virtual platforms. Those hugs that would provide warmth and reassurance, even if only for a short time, were still off limits. Cancer and COVID-19 have made an awful combination, and stress in 2020 has been off the charts.

Despite the challenges, there is only one way to look back on 2020 – with gratitude.

You’ve overcome every hardship thrown in your direction. You’ve endured. You’re stronger as a result. It’s important to not only feel grateful, but also to actively practice gratitude, especially as you reflect on the difficulties faced throughout the year.

Studies have shown that gratitude activities and interventions can reduce feelings of stress, worry, fear, and loneliness while increasing positive emotions. This can have a direct impact on how you feel physically. Most important, gratitude can restore the soul, and help you set aside feelings of grief and loss so you can focus on the opportunities that lie ahead. A mindset driven by gratitude will help you push forward.

How do you actively practice gratitude?

Robert A. Emmons, PhD, a psychology professor and an expert on gratitude at the University of California, Davis, says that practicing gratitude begins with affirming the good things you’ve received, and acknowledging the role that others play in providing you with those good things.

Keep a gratitude journal. Write down moments of gratitude and how they made you feel. Express gratitude to those who have helped you, whether by phone or in writing, to strengthen your relationships and renew the appreciation you feel for your support network. Be more aware of why you say “thank you,” and what makes you smile each day to reinforce feelings of gratitude. Surround yourself with visual reminders of gratitude, such as photos of loved ones and milestones in your treatment and recovery.

As we approach the holidays, it would be easy for patients with cancer to look back on 2020 with despair, but it wouldn’t be helpful or productive.

As you reflect on successfully overcoming the adversity of the pandemic, there are reasons to be optimistic about the near future. COVID-19 treatment has improved. The risks of serious illness and death caused by COVID-19 are lower. The release of new vaccines is imminent. There is a light at the end of what has been a long, dark tunnel. So, let’s be grateful for progress, and for what lies ahead.

Reflect on the past, but don’t dwell on the negative. Be grateful for what you have overcome, and look ahead with renewed strength and inspiration!

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