Every Day Is Thanksgiving Day
by Roger Cawthon
Many have called former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani “America’s Mayor” for his courageous leadership on 9/11 and throughout the terrible days that followed. I’ll never forget the photographs of the mayor striding confidently through the rubble that had been the World Trade Center towers, comforting the injured and terrified, thanking the firefighters, police officers, and aid workers. When he put his arms around those who had lost loved ones on that most awful of days, his compassionate touch reached out to every American and reminded us that we were all in this together and that there were people in charge who would work hard to make things right again.
I recently had the opportunity to hear Mr. Giuliani speak. I expected he would talk about 9/11, terrorism, and how we must find new and better ways to fight the epidemic of hatred and violence that threaten our world.
I’m sure he mentioned those things, but I don’t remember much of what he said about them. I don’t remember much about those words because there were others that meant so much more to me personally, words that hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks that day and will resonate within me for the rest of my life.
He said that his battle with prostate cancer had been a blessing because hearing the diagnosis gave him the opportunity to go home and hug his loved ones, to tell them how much he loved them and how thankful he was to have them in his life.
Giving thanks should not be reserved for one day of the year, but should be something we do every day.
The victims of 9/11, he pointed out, never had that chance. Three thousand people got up on a beautiful, clear September morning and left their homes to go to work or board airplanes or run errands, ordinary outings for most on what was to be a most extraordinary day, ordinary outings from which they would never return. How many of them, we wonder, had unfinished personal business? How many walked out the door without speaking to the husband or wife they had argued with the night before? How many left a crying child reaching out for one more hug? How many hadn’t spoken to a family member or friend for weeks, months, years because of some disagreement that had been allowed to smolder?
He was thankful for his diagnosis of cancer, said Giuliani, because it gave him a chance to be more thankful every single day. It reminded him to savor the many blessings in his life and to love his loved ones harder and more deeply than ever before.
Like Rudy Giuliani and more than 12 million other Americans, I will never forget hearing the words, “You have cancer.” My life, as I knew it, ceased to exist, and was instantly replaced with one filled with confusion and terror.
After the initial shock, however, the awful diagnosis began to work a strange kind of transformational magic. It reminded me on a daily basis – then and in all the days that have followed – that I have much to be thankful for. I am blessed to love and to be loved. And I am alive, at least for today. That is, quite simply, enough.
So why did I find Mr. Giuliani’s message so surprising the day I heard him speak? I think it was because I had thought a man like him – famous, powerful, wealthy – wouldn’t have much in common with an ordinary guy like me. When he finished speaking, however, I understood the same connection and felt the same measure of comfort he had shared with America on its most terrible of days. He had shown me – and the several thousand others who heard him speak that day – that we are all the same.
Even though on some level I had always known that cancer does not care how famous or powerful or rich you are or aren’t, now I really understood – whether it’s a terrorist attack or a diagnosis of cancer or any other rock-your-world trauma – we are all in this life together. We have each other – family, friends, and community – both local and global. Those blessings are enough, and giving thanks for them should not be reserved for one day of the year, but should be something we do every day.
Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Mayor.
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Roger Cawthon and his wife, Kathy, both cancer survivors, are the founders of The Cancer Crusade, an organization dedicated to fighting cancer with hope and humor. They offer free online support to other survivors and caregivers through their website TheCancerCrusade.com.
Read more about Rudy Giuliani’s battle with cancer.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2009.