Vt. Man's Special Take on Thanksgiving: ‘It Shouldn't Just be One Day a Year'

Brain cancer inspired Thomas Jackson to focus on gratitude 

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A man in Vermont says he has re-learned the true meaning of Thanksgiving — a process that deepened during a medical crisis.

“There’s so much to be grateful for,” said Thomas Jackson of Cornwall, who aims to live every day as if it’s Thanksgiving Day.

A seizure in July of 2020 led to a weeks-long stay at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington. Doctors diagnosed the problem as originating with a brain tumor, which was removed ahead of tough rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.

“Everyone who knows anything about cancer is very surprised that I’m here this Thanksgiving,” Jackson told NECN & NBC10 Boston in an interview Thursday at his home. “As am I.”

Still, Jackson said he couldn’t feel sorry for himself throughout the ordeal — not with his attitude of gratitude. He works as a therapist and regularly meditates.

“People think that happiness makes you grateful,” Jackson said. “But I read someone who said gratitude makes you happy. And that’s been my experience.”

After he was released home to Addison County, Jackson wrote a thank-you letter to the hospital. 

UVMMC then turned portions of that letter into a video it shared with employees. In the video, members of Jackson’s care team read sections of the thank-you note.

“I remember many courteous and kind nurses,” read Tricia Lamore, who works in radiation oncology. “These generous souls always had my back.”

“I appreciate your extraordinary doctors” another member of the UVMMC radiation oncology team, Suzanne Gross, read in the video. “One resident in particular made a point to visit me regularly, long after I was no longer assigned to his care team. These visits were all deeply appreciated.”

The UVM Medical Center employees’ compassion, in Jackson’s eyes, is all the more impressive, given the pressure hospitals are under during the pandemic.

“Everyone was kind in their own way,” recalled Jackson.

Now, well over a year later, through continuing appointments, Jackson has defied the initial expectations for his aggressive form of brain cancer, he said.

“By some miracle, I have had clean scans,” he said, before acknowledging problems could come back at any time — making for an even more difficult journey ahead.

For that reason, Jackson said, each healthy day with his family, in his warm house with good food, welcoming visits from friends and neighbors is a fresh reason to stay thankful.

“Every day, you can wake up and think of the things that are missing from your life,” Jackson said. “Or you can wake up every day and think of the things that you’ve been given in life. And I don’t have to spend much time thinking. It doesn’t take much mental energy to realize how much I’ve been given. And it’s phenomenal.”

And that, Thomas Jackson said, is the meaning of Thanksgiving.

“It shouldn’t just be one day a year,” Jackson said of the act of reflecting on what makes us grateful. “It’s every day.”

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