An Attitude of Gratitude On Thanksgiving Day

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” — Melody Beattie

Today, many of us will celebrate a national day of Thanksgiving with family and friends. You know the drill — eating turkey, mash potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin or apple pie; watching football (your pick of Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins vs. Dallas Cowboys, or San Francisco 49ers vs. Baltimore Ravens); and napping, after which the whole cycle begins anew.

Why Be Grateful?

Within this traditional celebration, it is all too easy for us to lose sight of the real meaning of the holiday; that is, to give thanks for the many blessings bestowed upon us in our daily lives. Yesterday, I overheard two adults speaking about Thanksgiving in a grocery store line. One individual said to the second in a serious tone: “What do I have to be thankful for?” At first blush, it seems like a fair question when you consider the following:

  • The U.S. is currently engaged in two major armed conflicts. As of November 22, the total number of Americans killed in Afghanistan and Iraq is 4,984, and the number of wounded is over 47,000. The conflict in Afghanistan hit the 10-year mark in October. In contrast, the U.S. forced the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and the Imperial Empire of Japan in 3 years and 8 months, thereby ending World War II in August 1945.
  • The U.S. is experiencing the worst economic downturn since “The Great Depression” of the 20th century.
  • The bipartisan U.S. Congressional “Super Committee” failed to reach agreement on $1.2 trillion of federal budget spending cuts over the next ten years, as part of Congress’ ongoing theater of the absurd in which its utter and total failure is “spun” as success.
  • The U.S. Congress’ approval rating, based upon a recent New York Times poll, sits at an all-time low of 9 percent. By comparison, former President Richard Nixon’s final approval rating after the Watergate Scandal and upon his resignation was 23%.
  • The U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) continues to fight for increased federal funding for cancer research in a time when 50% of men and 33% of women woman will experience cancer at some point during their lifetimes.
  • It is estimated that 15,460 U.S. women will die from ovarian cancer in 2011, which represents the death of one woman every 37 minutes. The annual U.S. ovarian cancer death toll is equal to the number of passenger deaths that would result from 30 Boeing 747 airplane crashes every year.
  • According to a recently published U.K. report, the median survival of women with ovarian cancer only increased from 8 months to 3 years over the past 40 years.

There is little doubt that the current state of U.S. affairs as described above is indeed daunting. The unsettling situation in the U.S., however, pales in comparison to the average life experience of those living in extreme poverty around the world (including the U.S.).

  • In 2005, the World Bank reported that 1.4 billion people in the developing world (one in four) were living on less than US$1.25 per day, of which 162 million live on less than $0.50 per day. The latter category of individuals are referred to as the “ultra poor” by the International Food Policy Research Institute.
  • Number of children in the world: 2.2 billion. Number of children living in poverty: 1 billion.
  • According to the World Health Organization, there are approximately 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS today, with 2 million AIDS-related deaths anticipated each year. It is estimated that 76% of those deaths will occur in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The United Nations estimates that 34,000 children and 16,000 adults die each day from hunger or preventable diseases with poverty-related causes. The annual death total is 18 million per year, which is nearly two times greater than the total number of deaths that occurred throughout “The Holocaust” between 1933 and 1945.
  • Approximately 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to clean water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation. Approximately 12 percent of the world’s population uses 85 percent of its water, and the individuals represented by the 12 percent do not live in the Third World.
  • In 1997, it was estimated that less than 1 percent of annual world weapons expenditures was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000.
  • Nearly one billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
  • 1.6 billion people live without electricity.
  • The U.S. has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation.
  • In 2008, 7.6 million people died of cancer or 13% of all deaths worldwide. About 70% of all cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

In light of the above-mentioned global poverty statistics, it should be possible for even the most pessimistic U.S. citizen to be grateful on Thanksgiving Day. For the women and families who are dealing with ovarian cancer in their lives, we also believe that gratitude and hope is not only possible; it is essential.

  • While cancers (including ovarian) constitute an incredibly diverse and bewilderingly complex set of diseases, we have at hand the methods to identify essentially all of the genetic changes in a cell and to use that knowledge to rework the landscape of cancer research and cancer care, from basic science to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
  • With this better understanding of cancer and recent technological advances in many fields, such as genomics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and computational sciences, progress has been made on many fronts, and a portrait is beginning to emerge for several cancers including ovarian.
  • It has been established that there are at least four major subtypes of epithelial ovarian cancer which should be treated as separate and distinct diseases.
  • In The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) study findings recently published with respect to the most common form of epithelial ovarian cancer, the investigators reported that a class of drugs known as “PARP inhibitors” may benefit up to 50% of high-grade, serous ovarian cancer (HGS-OvCa) survivors. In that same study, the investigators identified 22 genomic targets that occur in 10% or more of these cases, along with nearly 100 preclinical, clinical and FDA-approved drugs which are capable of “hitting” those targets.
  • The TCGA study of HGS-OvCa is arguably the world’s largest genomic study of any form of cancer to date.
  • Never before in human history has so much healthcare information been so readily available to the general public, thereby allowing cancer survivors and their families to proactively participate with their doctors in decisions relating to cancer diagnoses, treatments, and survivorship.
  • Given the rapid technological and pharmacological developments described above, it is important to “live to fight another day.”
  • Studies suggest that gratitude may improve overall health by leading to (i) better diet, (ii) increased amounts of exercise, (iii) reduced stress, and (iv) a stronger immune system. In other words, if you want to promote health, try giving thanks.

Thanksgiving In Times of Adversity & Plenty

“… As we gather in our communities and in our homes, around the table or near the hearth, we give thanks to each other and to God for the many kindnesses and comforts that grace our lives. Let us pause to recount the simple gifts that sustain us, and resolve to pay them forward in the year to come. …” — President Barack Obama

On November 16, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation for Thanksgiving Day 2011. The proclamation is befitting of the true meaning underlying this traditional holiday. Although the origins of the modern U.S. Thanksgiving holiday can be traced back to the early 17th century, it is worth noting that the first Thanksgiving to be celebrated by all U.S. states on the same day (i.e., the final Thursday of November, which was not enacted into law by Congress until December 1941) was first proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863. The year 1863 was arguably one of the darkest time periods in U.S. history because it occurred in the midst of the Civil War; a conflict that pitted brother against brother, and resulted in more American deaths than all subsequent U.S. conflicts combined. Despite that fact, President Lincoln believed strongly that we should give thanks for our daily blessings even in times of great adversity.

The main text of President Obama’s proclamation, which is provided below, echoes the sentiments of Lincoln and reminds all Americans that in good times and bad times, “… we have lifted our hearts by giving humble thanks for the blessings we have received and for those who bring meaning to our lives.”

“One of our Nation’s oldest and most cherished traditions, Thanksgiving Day brings us closer to our loved ones and invites us to reflect on the blessings that enrich our lives. The observance recalls the celebration of an autumn harvest centuries ago, when the Wampanoag tribe joined the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony to share in the fruits of a bountiful season. The feast honored the Wampanoag for generously extending their knowledge of local game and agriculture to the Pilgrims, and today we renew our gratitude to all American Indians and Alaska Natives. We take this time to remember the ways that the First Americans have enriched our Nation’s heritage, from their generosity centuries ago to the everyday contributions they make to all facets of American life. As we come together with friends, family, and neighbors to celebrate, let us set aside our daily concerns and give thanks for the providence bestowed upon us.

Though our traditions have evolved, the spirit of grace and humility at the heart of Thanksgiving has persisted through every chapter of our story. When President George Washington proclaimed our country’s first Thanksgiving, he praised a generous and knowing God for shepherding our young Republic through its uncertain beginnings. Decades later, President Abraham Lincoln looked to the divine to protect those who had known the worst of civil war, and to restore the Nation “to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.”

In times of adversity and times of plenty, we have lifted our hearts by giving humble thanks for the blessings we have received and for those who bring meaning to our lives. Today, let us offer gratitude to our men and women in uniform for their many sacrifices, and keep in our thoughts the families who save an empty seat at the table for a loved one stationed in harm’s way. And as members of our American family make do with less, let us rededicate ourselves to our friends and fellow citizens in need of a helping hand.

As we gather in our communities and in our homes, around the table or near the hearth, we give thanks to each other and to God for the many kindnesses and comforts that grace our lives. Let us pause to recount the simple gifts that sustain us, and resolve to pay them forward in the year to come. …” — Barack Obama’s Presidential Proclamation — Thanksgiving Day, 2011

If All Else Fails  – Try Humor

If you are still having trouble cultivating an attitude of gratitude on Thanksgiving Day, it is always helpful to enjoy the humor created by a child’s perspective. Thanksgiving is a time for food, family and fun, and we all know that children and grandchildren are a big part of the fun. Save Mart Supermarkets dared to create a video which captures a child’s perspective on the traditional Thanksgiving experience.  We should warn you that a broad smile is a common side effect of watching this video. Enjoy!

What Are We Thankful For?

Our Thanksgiving Day gratitude list includes the following:

  • Ovarian cancer survivors and their families, who teach us every day about the importance of hope, perseverance, courage, compassion, love, and acceptance.
  • The compassion of medical clinicians who treat ovarian cancer patients every day.
  • The intelligence and dedication of U.S. and international medical and scientific researchers, who doggedly pursue methods to control, and ultimately conquer, ovarian cancer.
  • The generous assistance provided to us by the Women’s Oncology Research & Dialogue (WORD) gynecological cancer awareness organization. Dr. Kelly Manahan (WORD Co-Founder), Dr. John Geisler (WORD Co-Founder), Nate Manahan (WORD Executive Director) and Chad Braham (WORD Director of Media Productions) provide Libby’s H*O*P*E* with invaluable substantive and technical assistance throughout the year, including the newest joint collaboration called “WORD of HOPE Ovarian Cancer Podcast.”
  • The ongoing generosity, encouragement and hope provided by Douglas and Diana Gray through the Gray Family Ovarian Clear Cell Carcinoma Research Resource, a multi-year research project dedicated to understanding, and ultimately defeating, one of the most lethal subtypes of epithelial ovarian cancer.  The Talmud says: “And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Doug and Diana Gray are passionate about pioneering ovarian cancer research aimed at saving women’s lives.
  • Our families who provide seemingly endless support and understanding, while we advocate on behalf of ovarian cancer survivors and their families.
  • The inspiration provided by Libby’s eternal spirit.
  • The ovarian cancer advocacy communities represented on Facebook, Twitter, Inspire.com, etc., who demonstrate on a daily basis that there is patient empowerment, joy, kindness, compassion, and synergy created by a large number of passionate and dedicated survivors and advocates who band together in cyberspace.
  • The dedicated service of our U.S. military personnel (and their families), who allow us to rise and sleep under the blanket of freedom which they provide each day through blood, sweat, and tears.
  • The roofs over our heads, the food on our tables, the clean water from our faucets, the freedom of speech and religious practice upon which our country was founded, the ability to vote in fair elections, and the simple acts of kindness that we are able to provide to and receive from others.

From our family to yours, let us take this opportunity to wish you a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.