Saturday, August 20, 2011

Change the Channel--Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

What could possibly be good about learning that you have a rare, life-threatening disease?  What’s the upside of hearing that you need aggressive treatment as soon as possible, or you may not see your child’s next birthday?  Where’s the “gift” people speak of when you experience something this earth-shattering?  And how exactly am I supposed to appreciate the experience the Universe has bestowed upon me?
When I was diagnosed with amyloidosis, trust me, I was less than thrilled.  I had a son who was barely four years old; I was about to celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary.  I was terrified of what chemotherapy would be like, and even more afraid of what would happen if treatment didn’t work.  I cried for days, wondering why this was happening to me, what I’d done to deserve this, and how my family and I would get through the experience.
Up until then I’d been the kind of person that believes everything happens for a reason.  During the years we struggled with infertility, I convinced myself our baby would arrive when the time was right, and when Jason was finally born, I felt all those unsuccessful cycles were necessary in order to have him.  When I broke my leg in 2006 and was laid up in a cast for 12 weeks, I figured the Universe was trying to send me a message loud and clear to slow down, stop trying to do so much, and give more undivided attention to my family.  But when I learned that my own body was turning against itself, despite years of being a healthy eater, vitamin-popper, fitness nut, and nonsmoker, I simply could not understand how or why something this crappy could happen to me.  Suddenly, my stomach would churn at the phrase, “everything happens for a reason”.  Really?!  It just didn’t seem fair.
Then in my mailbox one day I received a package from an anonymous sender (who has since been identified!).  It was a DVD called The Secret, and after watching it, my outlook turned around immediately.  It was my first introduction to The Law of Attraction, and I was so inspired by its powerful message, that I wanted to learn all I could about how to use it to help me get healthy again.  After watching The Secret several times, I read the book by the same title, as well as several others on the topic, plus a couple of great DVD’s (What the Bleep Do We Know, and You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay).
The primary message that resonated with me was that my energy needed to be focused on what I wanted, not what I didn’t.  Whatever thoughts and emotions I was having would only create more of those thoughts and emotions.  So if I was feeling angry, miserable and helpless, I would continue to manifest those feelings and results in my life.  I certainly did not want to create more misery and negativity, quite the opposite.  I wanted to recover and heal, and come through this a better person.  Staying home all day in my pajamas waiting to learn the reason for my diagnosis was no longer a conducive way to spend my energy; I certainly didn’t want more of that.  Yet I was also well aware that positive thinking was no guarantee of remission either, but it certainly couldn’t hurt.  At the time, I had no idea what lay ahead for me, but decided from that point forward whenever a negative thought or emotion occurred, to “change the channel” to a more optimistic way of thinking.  Since I didn’t know (or care) what the reason was for my diagnosis, I decided instead to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, and try and find things to be thankful for along the way.  While I knew that positive thinking was no replacement for traditional medicine, I considered optimism to be an essential part of my healing and recovery, and necessary for my medications to be as effective as possible.
I started by redirecting my focus to what was working in my life.  I began to make a conscious effort to put a positive spin on every negative thought that entered my mind.  I was thankful that a treatment existed for my disease, and that I lived near the leading facility in the world for amyloidosis.  I felt incredibly grateful for the support of my family, and the incredible circle of friends who selflessly rallied around me.  I appreciated the commitment and expertise of the doctors doing their best to make me well again.  And most of all, I thanked my lucky stars to have a loving husband who I could depend on, standing by my side the entire time.
When I returned home after several weeks in treatment, I was so happy to be near Jason again.  I was still very weak and limited physically, but instead of moping about what I couldn’t do with him, I redirected my focus on what I could do.  I enjoyed being able to sit and play games with him, snuggle under blankets for popcorn and a movie, give him a bath, read stories at bedtime.  I soon realized that I still had so much to be thankful for, and quickly shifting my focus from a negative to a positive thought truly made a distinct difference in how I felt.
Despite my commitment to the glass being half full, my spirit was still being tested.  Six months after my first bone marrow transplant, I learned I’d have to do it all over again.  Once I recovered from my second treatment, I found out the medications used had caused my hips to deteriorate.  Six months later I realized I needed to replace both of my hips, which led to two major surgeries followed by months of rehab.  However, my practice of “changing the channel” has become a habit, almost second nature.  I’ve also come to see that perhaps there was a reason for this entire experience after all.  I’ve been able to help and support other patients newly diagnosed with amyloidosis, and increase awareness of this disease through newspaper articles and TV appearances.  I’ve created a unique resource to help children cope with a critically ill family member, regardless of diagnosis.  And even though I’ll need to be tested every year for the rest of my life in order to see if the disease returns, I’ve learned that the real “gift” of this journey was an attitude of gratitude to last a lifetime.  This is truly a gift I’ll pass on to Jason, and one I hope will be handed down to his own children.


  1. A truly inspirational article,Jenifer. I so admire and respect your courage and your positive attitude. I admire and respect you. Thank you for sharing your experience through this article in such a heart-felt way.

  2. Thank you Jen for once again you prove to me what an incredible person you are. As I read this article, I can't help but feel that this can apply to everyone in all circumstances in life and not for a serious illness as you had. Thanks for writing this inspirational article and sharing your experience in positive thoughts.