‘Gratitude is a choice’ says brain tumor survivor
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
One year ago, November meant Thanksgiving as usual for Liberal resident Julie Bunnell. The owner of a small therapeutic massage business, Bunnell maintained a steady graciousness but “I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘look on the sunny side of life’ person,” she said with a slight laugh.
As the national holiday of gratitude approached, Bunnell said she sometimes felt a bit dubious about popular trends, like posting a daily declaration of thankfulness on Facebook or Twitter.
The last year has changed her approach to everyday reality, however.
“These days, at my house, we say, ‘If it’s not emergency brain surgery, we’re not going to get upset about it,’” she said.
That’s because Bunnell actually did have emergency brain surgery in April. “It was shocking because I was so perfectly fine,” she said. “I was the healthiest person you could know.”
During a visit with her family, though, Bunnell found herself suddenly feeling unwell. What she thought was a nasty flu lasted for three days, then for the next three weeks, until “I was basically just trying to survive, and no one could figure out what was wrong,” she said. “There was a whole month of that, until they found the brain tumor.”
Bunnell, relieved to finally know the cause of her physical misery, said she did not share the trepidation felt by those closest to her.
“My mother was in worst-case-scenario mode, my roommate was totally worried. It never occurred to me that it could be brain cancer,” she said.
That optimistic outlook persisted as Bunnell underwent brain surgery and a long recovery: nine days in the hospital, a couple weeks of aftercare, a slow return to everyday life.
“At some point, my mother said, ‘You know, you haven’t complained even once,’ and I guess I hadn’t thought about it,” Bunnell said. “On the last day at the hospital, the nurses came in to the neurological ICU and told me they’d been arguing over who would have me as a patient for that final day. They don’t see very many happy endings.”
For Bunnell, whose tumor tested as benign, a happy ending means that she’s moved a bit closer to the daily thankfulness postings she sees on Facebook.
“I’m more aware of trying to be thankful all the time, rather than just identifying one thing,” she said. “Everyone’s grateful for good friends, and having healthy kids, but it’s harder if you’re in the hospital and you try to notice that the nurses are nice and be thankful for that. Or if you’re stuck in traffic and you decide to be thankful because you see a beautiful sunset. I guess what happened to me put things in perspective.”
It helped, she added, that “everyone’s been awesome. My friends and my family were there for me, and so, even though I normally am a worrier, I’ve been able to come through this.”
Bunnell had no health insurance, and friends banded together to set up a fund for contributions to help pay her medical bills. When she returned to Liberal after a long convalescence in Wichita, her massage clients waited patiently for her to regain her strength.
Eight months after the surgery, Bunnell is back in business, a lift in her step, a smile on her face, and a chic haircut that makes the most of her brand-new, post-brain-surgery hair.
In the same way, she’s made something positive out of what life gave her since last Thanksgiving.
“Occasionally in life, you are given a tremendous gift,” she mused. “Something like the birth of your child or a second chance at life, and then it is very easy to be grateful for those incredible things. But that is not really what gratitude is. Gratitude is not something that happens to you, it is a choice. Choosing to acknowledge and dwell on the good things that are happening around you all the time, even in the worst situations.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the first of a series of articles that will appear in the Leader & Times through the month of November. We will talk to local residents about the idea of gratitude and thankfulness and how those qualities apply to life year-round. If you are interested in participating in this series of articles, contact Rachel Coleman at
or at the Times, 626-0840.