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My Attitude Adjustment
“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
~ Winston Churchill
When I had breast cancer and went through a bilateral mastectomy in October 2006, I did not do the recommended chemotherapy cocktail (three drugs) and I did not do the hormone therapy or radiation. I had experienced one complication after another. I was sick with staph twice after having surgery. The doctors then had to perform a corrective surgery, which required breaking my foot, and on top of that, I had two knee replacements. One knee replacement had complications; it was put in crooked, so I went through two more corrective surgeries. I had my gallbladder removed, uterine surgery, and other surgeries from the complications. I had 14 surgeries within two years, and it was very painful. The recovery time in between surgeries, looking back now, was not enough. It seemed like I had just started to ease into my recovery when I was back in the hospital having surgery yet again. My attitude during that period was not very good; I was terrified when it got to be about the seventh surgery. I was on antibiotics for months for a staph infection and was sick to my stomach. I was confined mostly to bed. Sometimes I would wake up very early in the morning because of the pain. I would take my medication and not be able to fall back to sleep, which meant I had a much longer day. It seemed like the time on the clock was in slow motion. In fact, time wasn’t relevant except for doctor appointments. I found myself to be lonely and bored more often than not, but I did not want to be a burden on friends or my daughter.
I realize how depressing this sounds, but I was not happy. I needed help just getting to the bathroom, getting out of bed… I needed assistance for everything, even showering and washing my hair. I needed food in bed. I did not want to see my chest in the mirror because it was gone and there were hideous gashes for nine months before reconstructive surgery began. I desperately wanted to be able to get out of bed so that I could drive my car or go for a walk outside. I wanted to socialize with my friends. Now and then, I would snap back to reality and remember that there were people having to endure even greater struggles than myself, but I am ashamed to say I still felt my attitude headed in a downward spiral.
Somehow I reached a crossroads where I knew I needed to change my attitude. I was afraid of slipping into complete depression and knew if I continued feeling sorry for myself, I would never return to the positive, optimistic woman I used to be. I used to write in journals, and I had stopped doing that when I got sick with cancer. I remembered how I used to write five things I was grateful for and that there was a connection to feeling hopeful and abundant in life simply by being grateful for something no matter what adversity I was going through in my life. I knew it was time to start up a new gratitude journal. I looked around my bedroom to find things to be thankful for; you’d think being thankful to be alive would be enough, but I was still afraid and in my miserable frame of mind. Trust me, it wasn’t easy to write five things in the beginning. I had to force myself to write, and my sloppy handwriting barely filled up a 1/4 page.
It read like this:
December 16th, 2006
- Thank you for my pillow.
- Thank you for the air I am breathing.
- Thank you for the soup. Even though it makes me sick, I know there are nutrients.
- Thank you for my toothbrush.
- Thank you for my son and daughter!
My attitude did not change overnight. I was sad. I needed to forgive, apologize, and let go of resentment; it was definitely a process. I still felt cheated in life, not just from cancer, but also from my relationship, which had taken a huge hit. I missed my family. I felt my spirit diminishing. Believe me, you can do too much thinking when you are sick and confined to bed. There was a veil of despair separating me from everything good around me; I lost sight, but I was determined to reach happiness again. I always used to say, “If you don’t feel like smiling, smile anyway because the rest of your body will eventually catch on.”
I bought a beautiful journal and an assortment of colored pens to start this project. I wrote in my gratitude journal each day, and before long I was filling up an entire page each night. More time passed, and eventually I was filling up one or two pages. My handwriting was not sloppy anymore, and finally an attitude adjustment was taking place. It was getting to the point where I would feel concerned about leaving anything left unwritten that I was grateful for that day. I was grateful for the smallest things, like my soup spoon versus the regular teaspoons that caused more spills. I loved my flex straws for my protein drinks. I was grateful for phone calls from friends. We always laughed! I opened a letter one day, and inside there were drawings from my best friend’s daughter. I used to hate the birds chirping outside my window each morning because they woke me up early, which meant a long day awake and stuck in bed. I began to notice my attitude changing; now I was grateful to hear them singing because they were a reminder for me that someday I was going to be free again. I just knew I would get through it all.
I took this attitude adjustment project a step further! I wrote down positive affirmations on pieces of paper. “You are loved,” “There is beauty all around you,” “God is with you,” etc. I printed pictures of fairies and colored them in careful detail with pencils; they cheered me up! Their big beautiful wings signified freedom to me, and the long flowing hair and whimsical gowns signified femininity, which I had been so afraid of losing because of what I had lost with breast cancer. I had my daughter tape these positive affirmations on my ceiling for me, including each blade of my ceiling fan over my bed so I would wake up to a room with positive messages and start my day with a smile. I felt inspired and beautiful on the inside and felt I could get through just about anything, and my room reflected that.
What I have learned is this:
Sometimes we are given too much to handle, and each of us copes with it differently. Adversity showed me my abilities, and it shaped me into a strong and compassionate woman. It didn’t happen overnight, and in some instances it would be years before I could look back at a burden I endured as something to be grateful for. What matters is I got to the point where I could have a fresh view of the situation. We all have the power of perception to see a lifetime of success and failures any way we wish. Some will see a life of many victories. Others will see many failures. Our attitude and our perception can constantly be adjusted. What we see is what we get.
To demonstrate what I mean, I will share a short story with a very powerful message.
“Once there were three bricklayers. When each bricklayer was approached and asked what he was doing, their responses were quite different. The first one answered gruffly, ‘I’m laying bricks.’ The second replied, ‘I’m putting up a wall.’ But the third bricklayer said with great pride, ‘I’m building a cathedral.’“
The bricklayer story is a great reminder of how we can each have a different perspective of the same thing. Now when I am sick in bed, I have a different attitude. I can envision my body healing itself, and while I lay in bed resting, there is a whole lot of work going on inside my body by me being at peace and having an attitude of gratitude. Thank God I am alive and healing.