Cancer and Christmas


You have truly experienced the love that this season represents.

I remember well my first Christmas after hearing the words "you have cancer." It's been 25 years, but there are certain things that stay with you. I was diagnosed in October when my daughter Kirtley was only 13 months old. I was in the middle of Chemo at Christmas, sick as a dog and, quite frankly, don't have very many memories of that Christmas except for the omnipresent fear every time I looked at my daughter that I may not live to raise her.

The traditions I had with my family and my new family of stepchildren went out the window as I tried valiantly to get up and down the stairs to bed. To say there was little Christmas spirit is putting it mildly.

The next Christmas was better and worse because it was the birth of the woman I dubbed the Crazy Christmas Mother. She moved in around October and collapsed around January 15, having produced the best and biggest Christmas anyone could remember. Some of you have met her too. She is born out of the fear that this may be the last Christmas, and she begins to run out of steam around year five of survivorship when it appears you might live -- or you can see that it's time to stop spending the family savings on Christmas.

It's an irrational way to live when you think that by buying everything your child wants, he or she will remember you if you die. Now that my daughter Kirtley is 26 I know that what she remembers is not what I gave her at Christmas, but what we did: going to east Texas to cut down the Christmas tree and bring it home; singing Christmas carols at the nursing home with all her friends from church; driving around to find the worst Christmas lights in the neighborhood (the criteria being how many different colored lights were used, whether they blended Christian and Secular ideas (i.e. Santa and Jesus), and just plain bad taste); and making Christmas cookies with her cousins on Christmas Eve. OK the blue suede boots were a hit but she was older.

So for those of you in treatment this Christmas or only a few years out of treatment, my best advice is to be easy on yourself. Let someone else host Christmas for a change. Buy out of catalogs if you have to shop.

Best of all, take a minute to really understand that in reflecting on all the people who have cared for you during this most awful time, you have truly experienced the love that this season represents.

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