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Giving Thanks: An Inventory of Gratitude for Each Year since my Advanced Stage Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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My stay-at-home mom and my blue collar dad, a navy veteran, were models of gratitude. Consequently, there was no room in the 'Marcucci' household for lamenting. My three siblings and I recognized, at an early age, that our list of grievances yielded a lack of compassion from our parents. In fact, our ungrateful thoughts elicited a ten-minute sermon first from my mom and later from my dad about those less fortunate and why we should appreciate our abundant life.

My mom is a daughter of immigrants, a father from Spain and a mother from Italy. Each had a palpable love of their country and thankfulness for the opportunity to raise their five children in America. My Grandpa Frank happily walked miles to work, while Grandmother Antoinetta, widowed with two children before my mother's birth, cared for their five children.

My dad's parents were first generation Americans, children of Italian immigrants. With a fervent work-ethic and a laser-like focus, my grandfather achieved his dream of launching a plumbing business. My grandmother, mindful of her family's middle class achievement, volunteered for the American Red Cross for years. I have warmhearted memories as my grandmother's pint-size co-pilot and guardian of a miniscule box which contained cornea donor tissue while we drove all day to an Eye Bank in our neighboring state to deliver a gigantic sight restoring gift to one fortunate stranger.

Like all families, my parents experienced much heartache, including the death of siblings and a mother who died much too young. Yet, neither of my parents ever complained.

When I was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer within weeks of my 11th normal mammogram, having inherited the gratitude gene, I did not lament about my breast cancer nor asked why me. What outraged me was not the diagnosis, but its late-stage, in light of never missing an annual screening mammogram with its decade of promise for early detection. It's been more than a dozen years since my diagnosis, and in this season of Thanksgiving, I chronicle my inventory of gratitude.

  1. I am grateful to my parents for being role models of gratitude, teaching me insightful lessons that cannot be learned from a textbook.
  2. I am grateful for my caregiver husband who accompanied me to my myriad of appointments, as his voice became mine when I had none to utter and his subsequent immense support to our advocacy mission.
  3. I am grateful for my health care team, when upon diagnosis, intently listened to my desires and needs as the central member of our decision-making health care team.
  4. I am grateful for the research funding that has led to treatments that are keeping me alive.
  5. I am grateful to the graciousness of expert professionals who graciously inspired and counseled me, pro bono, to launch our two non profits dedicated to breast health and dense breast tissue education and reporting.
  6. I am grateful to the legislative champions who, in spite of strong opposition, stood with the patient consumer for transparency in the reporting of dense breast tissue for improved breast health.
  7. I am grateful to the supportive physicians and health care professionals that parted from the entrenched status quo and joined our advocacy efforts to reduce advanced disease and, in turn, reduce mortality.
  8. I am grateful to our Boards of Directors, volunteers and supporters who believe in the impact of changing a potential fatal flaw in breast cancer screening by exchanging an advanced stage diagnosis with an early one.
  9. I am grateful for the inspiration from breast cancer survivors, thrivers and previvors and their families who I stumbled upon solely because of our common breast cancer diagnosis or breast cancer risk. Their life stories motivate our advocacy mission.
  10. I am grateful for the opportunity to change the standard protocol of breast cancer screening across the globe to eliminate the grief of a loved one dying prematurely from the disease.
  11. I am grateful to live in a country where democracy awards its citizens an opportunity to make a difference through legislative efforts.
  12. I am grateful for my education and career experiences which, in a peculiar manner, allow me to travel this unpaved and bumpy road of patient advocacy.