Cancer Burnout and The December Blues


The holidays are different this year for everyone, but for patients with cancer and cancer survivors, the holidays in 2020 are a unique challenge that presents difficult thoughts to contemplate.

The so-called “Holiday Season” rings joyfully for many of us. We’re presented with the opportunity to see old family members and friends, exchange gifts, eat good food, laugh and feel the connections between people and rejoice for all of the blessings we’ve received.

But wait a minute you say, we’re in a Coronavirus lockdown in many parts of the country.We can’t eat out or hug old friends. We can’t invite the neighbors in for eggnog and pinochle. We can’t shop without our mask. We need to wipe down our Christmas cards with rubbing alcohol before opening them, and on top of all that, we suddenly remember that we have cancer.

How could anything get any worse than this?

Those are a few of the thoughts I woke up with this morning, here in Arizona.Sitting quietly in my office I looked out my window facing Mica Mountain and Rincon Peak and, as I always do, I marveled at the majesty of nature—doing what it always does. Our natural world, though in a constant state of change, is the “rock” of our existence.It seems so stable, comforting and dependable because we know it’s always there, just outside the window.

However, our world is changing second to second. A candle seems to burn in a linear direction—down and we often see our lives as linear also. After all, we are born and then we die, but the candle flame goes in many directions, the photons from the light zipping into space and never losing their energy. Regardless of our cultural or religious views, or lack of them, that candle flame will always do what it does as those photons continue on their journey forever.

And today, thanks to that view outside my window, I’m reminded that I’m moving that way too, whether or not I have cancer in my body. For me, a life with breast cancer isn’t about simply moving ahead in my survival or in my quest to be cured.Like the natural world, the world of cancer isn’t a one-way experience.

When we wake up with COVID-19 and cancer in our life every day it’s perfectly appropriate to ask “How could anything be any worse than this?” Immersing ourselves in our feelings and especially during the curtailed holiday times seems to play an important role in our healing. It seems to me that healing is a daily procedure in our expedition through cancer and not just an end to it.

And watching that road runner chase a lizard up my tree, and catching sight of the towering Ponderosa Pine trees atop Rincon Peak in the distance—all of this while I’m still remembering that I have cancer, I’m invited to ask, “How could anything be any better?

A horrifying thought? Perhaps it is, but only when I’m forgetting to look out the window.

I may be missing family and food and fun and freedom this December, but I’m alive and surviving cancer for yet another holiday season. When I was diagnosed with male breast cancer six years ago, before my stage and grade of cancer was revealed, I made a personal bargain with life.“Give me one year” I said to myself. “I need just one year to pull my things together, to establish a safe and secure home for my wife and finish my novel and a handful of songs”.

I’ve now had six years to look out my window each day, and it appears as though that mountain hasn’t changed a bit, but just like me, it has. I feel burned out in this cancer experience from time to time and even a little blue when I ponder what the world might be like after my time here is over. I really wanted to see us land on Mars. I wanted to live long enough to experience our first contact with another civilization in the galaxy. I wanted to see a cure for cancer.I wanted to watch and admire my wife as an old woman.

These things and more may not be in my future, but it seems likely that I’ll have at least one more holiday season to experience. And what could be better than that?

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