LIVING with Cancer: Gratitude is a Powerful Healer

By Kathleen Johnson

“You’ve got Cancer.” I don’t recall anyone actually saying those exact words to me. Doctors today dance around the subject and come up with synonym phrases almost as if they are afraid to say those words, too. But the bottom line is that when this diagnosis hits (and it strikes SO many people these days), it’s what we do with the information that determines whether we will end up LIVING or merely existing.

I chose LIVING!

I will never forget when the surgeon came into my hospital room to tell me that he had something to say. I knew the moment he walked through the door that he was about to tell me that what was originally diagnosed as stage one rectal cancer was actually much worse according to the surgical biopsy performed after removing my original tumor and creating an ileostomy (an alternative way for the body to remove waste, also known as a “bag”). He very calmly informed me that the cancer was stage three, involving some of the lymph nodes that were outside of my colon area. My husband immediately fell apart with worry and grief. At that moment, I just very calmly looked at the physician and asked, “So what do we do about it?”

That was the beginning of my journey into LIVING and gaining appreciation for the support of a growing community around me.

The months that followed involved disgusting things that really can’t be discussed at the dinner table. I knew that folks would want to know what was going on, and that I needed some sort of outlet to vent my feelings, so I started a blog. What a cathartic thing a blog can be…It allowed me to describe all of the horrible things that were happening to my body, while also offering an outlet to temper my emotions through writing. I knew that some of the people reading this blog were not medically savvy, and I also knew that if I really allowed ALL of my emotions to come through they would become ingrained in my being and fester into feelings of anger, frustration, and self-pity. Still, the blog was a perfect outlet. By writing things as they happened and receiving feedback from my many readers, I was able to focus on gratitude for life—everything from the incredible meals that were delivered to the house to phone calls from those who were almost complete strangers wishing me well.

Gratitude is a powerful healer.

Of course “Bob” was a huge part of the whole journey (and continues to be a part of my journey even today). Bob is the name I gave my ileostomy bag. It was important for me to be able to discuss this new, nasty appendage in my life in a way that the general public could understand. I also needed to give Bob a separate identity because even though he was now a part of me…he wasn’t ME. This allowed me to bring humor into something otherwise unspeakable. After all, everybody poops, right?

It’s OK for the world to get all excited and wrapped up in children as they learn the many functions of life, but after that it’s a bit taboo to discuss things like excrement and waste removal. Yet Bob forced me into that world as an adult. My husband and I have never had children, and I’ve often wondered if this was God’s little way of getting back at us for not procreating!–But I digress…

Every few days, I would submit an entry into my blog. Most of the time, Bob was the topic of conversation. Bob was quite an angry being. At one point, he “vomited” for over 21 days solid. Bad Bob! Through my writing and my life, Bob took on a personality of his own and, more importantly for my followers, Bob allowed them to comprehend what I was going through. Several months after I began the blog, I realized that there were actually folks out there WAITING to see what I had written. It was amazing to me that I had incredible mental, emotional, and even physical support from people who didn’t even know me—all because they were in on my story. And it became apparent to me that by sharing my story I was helping them, too. It’s so easy to just shut down and opt out of life when something like this happens, but the magic that occurs when we open ourselves up is incredible. The power of community is one of the strongest healers around…and I got the chance to experience that power!

It all comes down to gratitude. I will never be one to utter those words “I am so thankful for my cancer.” That’s just BALONEY! I don’t believe anyone is truly ever grateful that he or she must go through the horrific things that accompany a cancer diagnosis. However, the incredible things that come as a result of a cancer experience can be tremendously fulfilling and can truly change the course of one’s life.

For example, as a result of this journey I am now able to connect with people on a much deeper level. I even started to mentor quite a few people going through the same experience. Colo-rectal cancer is not a sexy cancer….I know, I know: there’s no such thing as a sexy cancer, right? Nobody talks about this disease because it’s just messy. By having the opportunity to connect with people going through this same journey, I honestly feel that we are healing one another and creating a community of support and survival. Too many people sit in their homes and become hermits, especially after getting an ileostomy. With all the nasty things that go along with a “Bob,” it’s easy to do just that—but life needs to be LIVED, mess and all!

Trust me: There is incredible life before, during, and after a serious cancer diagnosis or event. The trick is finding gratitude and a sense of community, and allowing that to inspire you to experience the beauty of LIVING!


Kathleen Johnson, MBA is a “biker babe” who traded her Harley in for an ileostomy bag named “Bob”. A passion for writing has always lingered in her soul, but it took a life-changing journey through cancer to ignite the spark to share her thoughts on life with others by offering inspiration and hope through her humor and brutal honesty. Armed with an MBA specializing in Health Care Management, she works for a major pharmaceutical company, which inspires her passion for connecting to people in the healing arts. She can be reached at She is open to mentoring others living through health crises.

This article is a chapter from the book Transform Your Life! written by 60 real-life heroes and experts and available at,, and all ebook formats.


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