When my wife, Erin, was diagnosed with breast cancer in June, it made me think about how fragile life is. We’d been enjoying life together as a family, with our 11-year-old daughter, Aleene. Suddenly I didn’t know whether we would have a future together and I was a little fearful. But I’m a firm believer in hope and l started the Challenge to focus on gratitude and giving back, to appreciate my life more. 

“I started writing in a gratitude journal.”

I document things and people I’m grateful for, like helpful co-workers. Then I decide how to actively show gratitude, sending handwritten notes or bringing healthy snacks into work, like breakfast bars, for people who’ve shown kindness. When Erin had her chemotherapy treatments, I wrote to her oncologist saying how grateful I was that he and his team were going the extra mile for her.  

I say affirmations every day, for example: “I am blessed; I am strong enough to handle anything; Nadia you can do this!” And I chant them in the shower! I put pictures of things I want for my family, like a house, on a vision board, which hangs above my nightstand. There’s a picture of my wife on the board with a sign saying: “I am cancer-free.”  

“I’ve become a great cheerleader for Erin.”  

When her long hair fell off in the brush, and she was almost in tears, I said: “Stop right there, the hair will grow back. Your life is more important.” And she went through her treatment like a champ!  

“I have gratitude meetup groups on Zoom with friends.” 

We talk about everything we’re grateful for. I’m encouraging people not to miss opportunities to express gratitude. My aunt Marlene passed recently, and I realized there were a lot of things I appreciated about her that I didn’t get to tell her, that I’m sure she would have been happy to hear. 

“Giving back gives me purpose.”  

I was raised in Jamaica and worked as a teacher before moving to the U.S. Now, I donate classroom equipment to the school where I used to teach, because it’s underfunded. I buy book vouchers for students in need and donate money for care packages.

“I appreciate the simple things in life, like having dinner with my wife.” 

I make it special, setting the table nicely and cooking something delicious like salmon with corn on the cob. I create a “restaurant” ambience by serving our (non-alcoholic) drinks in wine glasses decorated with a slice of pineapple for an island look.   

I write down prayers on strips of paper and put them in a prayer box. And let me tell you, my  box is magical — because we’ve just found out Erin is cancer-free! And she’s starting the Challenge.

“The Challenge is heart and soul work for me and I am super happy.”

Gratitude is helping me stay present and grounded. It gives me peace and contentment and I don’t take anything or anyone for granted.  

Nadia Parkinson, Orlando, FL; $3K Winner

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