Health & Wellness, Inspiration, Living beyond breast cancer, Survivor & Caregiver

Finding gratitude: survivor insight from Barb Swegarden

By Dr. Shelby Terstriep

December 31, 2013

As 2013 comes to a close, I wanted to leave you with one more inspiring survivor’s journey and inspirational message from the recent Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Retreat—Embracing Life. We used rocks throughout the day, on which we wrote meaningful words that can be used to ground us in times of anxiety, fear or loneliness. When I asked Barb to speak at the retreat and discuss the rock idea, she couldn’t believe it. You’ll understand after you read her speech …

Gratitude rocks

My name is Barb Swegarden. I am a wife to my wonderful husband, Jon, a mother of three beautiful children — Abby, Adam and Joe — and a recent retiree from service to the Fargo Public Schools. I am a breast cancer survivor.

I was diagnosed in May of 2009 with stage IV breast cancer metastatic to the spine. Interestingly enough, the cancer in my breast was so small it was hard to find. The cancer in my spine was not so hard to find. The cancer had essentially eaten away my T8 vertebrae and compromised T7 and T9.

When Dr. Terstriep asked me to tell the survivors in the group a little bit about myself AND that the topic was to focus on GRATITUDE, I nearly fell off my chair. One of my favorite topics is gratitude.

Several years before I was diagnosed, I met a small group of people through my health club. This group was on a spiritual quest. They introduced me to writers and subjects I had never heard of before — writers like Dr. Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay, Eckhart Tolle, Echo Bodine and Esther and Jerry Hicks.

These writers are seekers with a common goal. They want to raise the level of consciousness in our culture. They want to help our society see that there is more to life than what you have, what you do and what other people think of you. They are intent on helping others see that we live in abundance; that our abundance is here — we only need to RECOGNIZE it.

My journey of gratitude started with a simple journal in which I would document at least one thing every day about which I was grateful.

As time passed and my spiritual knowledge grew, I realized that finding gratitude had fundamentally changed me. In my core — in my heart — I was different. I was able to find many things every day about which I could be grateful. I would eye things throughout my day and raise my eyes to the heavens and quietly say, “Thank you for that” or “Thank you for this person.” It is now a part of me. It is not something I DO; it is who I AM.

In the summer of 2008, I was in the best physical condition of my adult life. Thanks to my relationship with Barb Kloeckner from Total Balance, I had learned how to eat more healthfully and I had become a gym rat. I worked out almost every day and felt fantastic. That summer my husband and I made a huge step forward in our five-year garden project. We laid seven TONS of flagstone in our garden.

Less than two months later, when I was doing a strength training workout, I felt something pop. We thought it was an intercostal muscle pull, and for the next eight months we searched for answers to my pain. After several misdiagnoses (including having my gallbladder removed), I was diagnosed. I was told that the cancer in my spine had been there for at least five years and possibly 10.

Now, let’s talk about gratitude. I lifted hundreds of pounds of stone that summer; I lifted countless weights; and I ran many, many miles;  I did not damage my back. I did not do anything to cause irreparable harm. I was told by the orthopedic surgeon that one wrong move could have resulted in permanent paralysis.

I look back on my summer and think I have so much to be grateful for.

In the summer of 2012, I completed the activities in the book The Magic by Ronda Byrnes. This book was recommended to me by a friend as a way of connecting on an even deeper level to my abundance through gratitude. One of the 28 exercises was to find a small rock and make it my “Magic Rock.” Each night before going to sleep, I was to hold my Magic Rock and go through all of the good things about my day and then pick the best thing about my day and say “thank you.”

I still do this every night. I go to sleep thinking of gratitude.

Each of you has a rock in front of you. You all have a marker. I want you to write a word on your rock to remind you of your abundance. And each night, I want you to look at YOUR Magic Rock before you fall asleep and thank God for one thing about your day — the BEST thing about your day. I believe it will change your life.

So this new year, grab a rock and a black marker. What is the best thing about your day?

Happy New Year!

Shelby