What I'm Thankful for This Thanksgiving After a Hard Year With Chronic Illness

It’s that time of year again. Leaves are falling, pumpkin spice everything is everywhere, and people are thinking about what makes them thankful. For some, it’s been an especially hard year and it might be difficult to come up with a “good” answer.

For those dealing with chronic illnesses, “good health” is probably on your wish list, not your thankful list. I have not had a particularly healthy year myself, and recently had surgery on my esophagus and stomach.

Even so, I am thankful to have gotten through it, and am looking forward to eating pumpkin pie and turkey, things I wouldn’t have been able to eat a few months ago. I won’t be able to eat very much of it, as I’m still struggling to get back to eating “normal” amounts of food, but I will still get to taste those Thanksgiving flavors.

I have always loved Thanksgiving, and I still look forward to watching the parade every year. I prefer to watch it from my couch, cozy in pajamas with hot cocoa, even though I don’t live that far from New York City. As someone with chronic digestive issues, standing for hours at the parade wouldn’t be physically possible for me, anyway. Instead, I embrace my cozy ritual every year.

It just so happens that my birthday falls on Thanksgiving this year. This means that I get to reflect on my year of 22, and look ahead to 23. Despite this being my third major surgery, I made it through another year and am hopefully heading into my healthiest year yet.

I recently realized that since I am turning 23, I am entering into my 10th year since my appendix burst. That ordeal, which involved many complications, a month in the hospital (including time in the ICU), and two months of 8th grade missed, was my first major medical scare. It also has led to many of the health issues that I’m still dealing with a decade later.

That year, I managed to be home from the hospital on Thanksgiving. I was released on Wednesday afternoon, so I was able to watch the parade from my sofa bed instead of the hospital bed. It was the first year that I missed my family’s Thanksgiving dinner at my Nana’s, but my aunt brought me some of the food and I had a mini Thanksgiving in bed.

My birthday was on Black Friday that year, so I was able to turn 14 in my own home. I received new pajamas (much needed when spending time at home recovering), several penguin-themed gifts (my favorite animal), a bottle of the newest Vera Wang Princess perfume, and the new Aly & AJ CD (it was 2007).

The next day, however, my complications got worse and I ended up back in the hospital for another week. I managed to be home just for Thanksgiving and my birthday, but was very grateful that I didn’t have to spend either of those days in the hospital.

My makeshift Thanksgiving that year taught me to take things day by day. That day, I was home. That day, I was able to feel more like a normal teenager, singing alone with the Broadway performances on TV and making fun of the dog show.

This year, I am thankful to be able to spend Thanksgiving and my birthday with my family. I am thankful that I will not be in the hospital (hopefully!), and that I can watch the parade, even though I might be “too old” for it now.

I am thankful that I can choose to have a positive outlook, because I know not everyone can. I know that for some, things are too difficult to see past right now. And that’s OK. I’ve had years like that, too.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful that I am at a place in life where I can look forward to the future, to another year lived. If it’s not the healthiest year, that’s OK, too.

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