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Stage IV life: Being thankful for every day

As I planned a column to be tied into Thanksgiving, I started to think through the various things I am very thankful for this year.  The list started to get very long, at which point I took a pause.

The list was great for me to see, in that it organized and showed in a concrete way that YES – regardless of Stage IV cancer, I have had a wonderful year – it wasn't my imagination!

But at the same time, I didn't like that it was a list, because it felt like I was falling into an "autopilot" post.  A post that cancer blogs are supposed to write this time of year – sort of like our version of the annual news story on the Butterball Turkey hotline.

So I stopped.

Shouldn't we be thankful every day? Not just on the fourth Thursday in November for a holiday called Thanksgiving?

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Thanksgiving.  Everyone near me knows that it is my second favorite holiday after Christmas.

Way before cancer, I loved the fact that unlike most other holidays when stripped to its essence (being thankful), it crosses all demographics, life experiences, religions, nationalities and creeds.   I loved how it brought people together for communal time focused on justbeing there for each other,  following whatever annual (or non-annual) traditions you choose ... and being thankful.

My dad instilled in me the following sentiment when I was very young:  "No matter what happens, there will always be someone who is having it better than you and someone who is having it worse than you.  So no matter what happens, you should never be envious and you should always be thankful."

I have no idea if he knew that brief conversation would impact me for the rest of my life.  Being a dad myself now, I am guessing probably not. But it is amazing how kids can separate wheat from chaff without parents even realizing.  Thanks for the great, lifelong advice, Dad.

Cancer forces you to change things in life, both big and small.  What matters most, I believe, is keeping focused on the key goals of our shared human experience: Being together with people who care for one another and being thankful.

Not just on the fourth Thursday in November, but every day.

Although I have had bad experiences due to my cancer, it still truly has been in many ways (too many to list) the best year of my life. For that I am incredibly thankful. Each and every day.

Now, pass the turkey and Happy Thanksgiving!

Dr. Tom Marsilje is a 20-year oncology drug discovery scientist with "currently incurable" stage IV colon cancer. He also writes a personal blog on life at the intersection of being both a cancer patient and researcher "Adventures in Living Terminally Optimistic," a science column for Fight Colorectal Cancer "The Currently Incurable Scientist", and posts science and advocacy updates to Twitter@CurrentIncurSci. This guest column appears on Diagnosis: Cancer through our partnership with Inspire, an Arlington, Va., company with condition-specific online support communities for over 900,000 patients and caregivers.

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