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Giving Thanks in My Seventh Decade

[This was originally published on Positives About Negative on January 2, 2011.]

I turned 65 last week and I am not sure what to make of it. Yes, getting older is better than the alternative, as my bout with cancer made extremely clear. Still, that’s old. Medicare old. If I got robbed, the news story could very well describe me as elderly.

I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 60, and that certainly stopped my whining about getting old. I need no reruns of that scenario, so I am embracing my advancing age.

Not that I have a choice.

Seriously, I am embracing it. I am fortunate enough to have everything that matters, plus the perspective to appreciate all these gifts. So, in this new year of my life, as I welcome expanded wrinkles and joint pain, I am stopping to celebrate what I have with humility and gratitude.

I have love. Not just received, which is beautiful, but love given. I love my husband, son, daughter, grandson, son-in-law, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and friends. The other night I started counting all the people in my life who truly matter to me. Not Facebook-level friends, but friends with whom I regularly share long talks, friends who were with me when I was sick and would be with me again. Not acquaintances. Friends. I reached 74 before I fell asleep. Nice.

I have my health. Sure, I still worry that every bump and pain means cancer is back, but it’s been 4.5 years since I was diagnosed, and with hormone-negative, the rate of recurrence falls off the cliff after three years. What’s more, since that diagnosis, I have eaten far more healthily, exercised more, and taken up yoga and meditation. Getting sick forced me to get healthy.

I have meaningful work. I was blessed with a talent for writing and have been given the opportunity to nourish and share that talent. And I was doubly blessed that this turned into an academic career that was way beyond fulfilling and that I have been able to continue after retirement. I see no need to retire from writing. I love that I can use that talent to help many beautiful women when they are struggling with a new diagnosis.

I have home. My house is sunny and warm and big enough for me and my husband but small enough to make sense. We are comfortable here.

I have happiness. I often wake up with a smile on my face.

Five years ago, I would not have made the same list. Five years ago, I would not have thought of making a list at all. I was too busy, too consumed with where I was going and what I was doing to see where I actually was, what I was actually doing, what actually mattered.

Cancer stopped my in my tracks and made me pay attention. As did hearing the stories of other women who have faced problems accessing and paying for proper healthcare, who have had husbands and partners leave them in their illness, who have lost jobs and security because of their illness, whose response to treatment was harsh, who don’t know where to go next, who are terrified and confused.

I am lucky. Sixty-five, eighty-five, thirty-five, whatever the age, I am blessed. Yeah, I have those aching bones, and graying hair, and wrinkles, and a growing list of friends who are sick or who I have already lost to death. That comes with the benefit of age.

Sure, the Big C lurks in my consciousness like a cobra hiding in my brain, with worry that strikes whenever I let my guard down. But I am living a great life. And I am enormously thankful for it.

This post was borrowed with permission from Pat's personal blog, Positives About Negative. Pat is the author of Surviving Triple Negative Breast Cancer and the co-author of The Magazine From Cover to Cover, also published by Oxford. She has been a magazine writer, editor, consultant, and professor for more than 35 years. She headed Drake University's magazine sequence for 22 years before taking over as director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2004. In May 2006, Pat was diagnosed with early-stage hormone negative breast cancer and retired from Drake in 2007 to focus on health writing and her health. She had surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, and is now healthy, fit, and cancer-free.

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