Of Gratitude and Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer, Healthy Living, Women's Health
on October 7, 2011
Shelly Mathis and husband Scott at the Machu Picchu ruins in Peru.

I’ll never forget the day in 2003 when my doctor told me I had breast cancer. She said that the best treatment was to get a mastectomy and possibly chemotherapy. It didn’t sink in for a while. My first husband had died of a heart attack a year prior to my diagnosis, and while I didn’t think I could be shocked like that again, I was.

I was told the breast cancer was early stage, so chemo might not be required. Following the sentinel node biopsy, no breast cancer had spread, but the pathologist found I had lymphoma. Obviously a very serious complication, chemotherapy was now absolutely necessary.

First, my husband’s death, then my sister — my only sibling — died of cancer in 2002, and now I was facing my own battle against two types of cancer at once, which was horrifying.



One night when I was very sick after a chemo treatment, I didn't really care if I lived or died. I felt like everything had been taken away from me, from loved ones down to my hair. That's when I started thinking about how hard my daughters and friends had been working to support me through all these horrible events. None of the people who helped me were forced to do it. Out of the kindness of their own hearts they were bringing me food, driving me to chemo, spending the night with me while I was sick, taking me on little shopping outings when I was able, sending cards and flowers, bringing me books, magazines and movies. I was overwhelmed by their kindness, love, and encouragement and felt an enormous sense of gratitude that they were still in my life after three years of pure misery. That's a long time for people to keep supporting you! It was a turning point for me emotionally to be able to feel so grateful for the kindness of others that I stopped feeling sorry for myself and focused on getting well.

Inspired to do my part to get well, I put together an action plan to speed my recovery. My doctor helped me select the proper food and supplements for healing. My daughters urged me to hire a personal trainer to come to my home and make me work out. It took about 8 months after my final chemo treatment, which was in January 2004, to feel like I had normal brain functioning and physical stamina, but I also swam, did yoga, meditated, prayed, got a dog that needed walking every day. I also met a man who wasn’t scared of all my baggage. In fact, he wanted to marry me, which he did on May 13, 2006.

I finally got my life back, and I am still amazed at how the gratitude can help someone heal. Although I still get busy and over-committed on occasion, I try to help or bring joy into the lives of people I know who are suffering by repeating the kind deeds that were done for me. I also make presentations to bereavement groups, women's groups and cancer support groups to show them that they, like me, can get through some really tough times and come out truly better than before.