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  • Writer's pictureJoe Lofshult

Gratitude for Life

As I was driving home after completing a half-marathon today, I had time to think about how lucky I am and how grateful I am for what I have. A few years ago I never would have guessed I’d have what I have now.

Around 3 1/2 years ago I was diagnosed with a condition I was sure at the time was going to take my life. I remember reading up on the risks on the Internet and thinking for sure my life was going to be limited and, potentially, short. It certainly didn’t help when a well meaning doctor told me the story about a friend with a similar condition who almost died.

As it turned out, though, what I thought was a bad thing actually turned into something good. During a routine follow-up scan one year later, they discovered a small mass in my lung. A couple weeks later, I had a lung biopsy done. Much to my surprise, I went in for a procedure that was only supposed to take a couple of hours, but I woke up over 24 hours later. It turned out the doctor hit a “bleeder” and had a hard time controlling it. You can imagine my wife’s surprise when she got that call. Finding me in the ICU with a breathing tube and hooked up to a bunch of machines was not what she expected when she had dropped me off a few hours earlier.

After I was discharged, the hardest part was waiting for the results. Those were some of the lowest days in my life, not knowing what I was going to hear and not wanting to die. I remember getting the call from the doctor to tell me it was cancer. I only partially remember what she said after that, but I do recall her saying that it was a rare cancer, but a good rare.

I’d never smoked in my life so that diagnosis caught me off guard. As it turns out the type of cancer I had doesn’t have a known cause. It’s pretty random and I just happened to win the jackpot.

As it turned out, I was lucky. They were able to remove the tumor and I was cured. The only downside was they had to take one lobe of my lung. We are born with five lobes (2 on the left and 3 on the right), and they took one of my left lobes, leaving me with 80% of my lung capacity. However, the doctor told me my remaining left lobe would expand to make up for some of the deficit, but not all.

I’ve been fine since. I occasionally notice the lessened lung capacity (or it could just be that I’m getting older). And the original condition I was so scared about - it turns out it's not that bad. Something to keep an eye on through regular monitoring, but nothing to worry about right now.

I celebrated the 2 year anniversary of my surgery last September by completing my first marathon. I didn’t set any records, nor was I trying to, but I met my goal to complete it.

And today I completed a 1/2 marathon and am signed up for another one in the fall (along with a spattering of other shorter races this year).

So as I was driving home today I couldn’t help but reflect on the luck I’ve had and to be grateful for the life I still have the opportunity to live. I have a wife and kids I love and who love me, a career that allows me to keep a roof over our heads and food on our table, and I have my health.

Through my study of positive psychology, I’ve learned to reflect more on the good things in my life and not take them for granted. I tend to have a pretty strong negativity bias and looking for the good isn’t something that comes naturally. However, now I sometimes remember to look for things to be grateful for and celebrate them when I can, and that makes me a little bit happier.

How might you apply gratitude in your life to improve your own happiness? What experiences can you bring to mind to be grateful for and potentially spend some time savoring?

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