The Greatest Gift Throughout the Cancer Journey


This is the time of year when we spend a lot of time thinking about gifts. Who is on the list? What is the best gift for each person?

This is the time of year when we spend a lot of time thinking about gifts. Who is on the list? What is the best gift for each person?

Since being diagnosed with cancer, my idea of gifts has changed. It's like the magnet I have on the refrigerator that says, "the best things in life aren't things."

Christmas was only 10 weeks away when I was diagnosed. I was still in chemotherapy through the holidays, so there was no question about taking part in any of the festivities other than lying on the couch wondering if this was the last Christmas I would ever have with my family.

I think it was that thought that prompted me to buy Kirtley a few really inappropriate Christmas gifts. I call them inappropriate because she was only 14 months old, but there were so many things I had always wanted her to have and I wasn't sure I would be there to give them to her. These were books mostly, ones that had meant a lot to me and that I wanted to be sure she had. She already had a number of books that were age appropriate, but what about the classics such as Black Beauty and others that she wouldn't be able to read for a number of years. She needed those now in case I wasn't here in the years to come. So I bought them for her — as well as dolls, trucks (because I didn't want a “girlie girl”) and lots of other things she would play with in years to come, if at all. It was my way of keeping myself alive for her.

A few years later in my support group, we all talked about Christmas as it approached. I learned then that I was far from alone in the inappropriate gift giving when it came to children.

Not only did we laugh at the gifts we tended to buy, we helped the newly diagnosed women understand the fear and other mixed emotions that the holiday brings on. We offered suggestions about how to get through the holidays, continuing the traditions they could and making new ones when they couldn't gather the energy to repeat old ones.

Those of us who had been there a while shared the ways to help reduce the stress, and in more than one situation, we learned important things when we were willing to step back and let others take some of the responsibility.

The most valuable gift to these children is communication, talking about what is happening and how they could all make the holiday special, but different. If the whole family had always gone to the country to cut down the Christmas tree, maybe it was time to all go to the local tree lot and choose a tree.

Decorations are always the most exhausting part of Christmas for me, digging them out of the box and organizing them. Well, a little aluminum foil can do the same thing. Just take a piece and form a ball around a branch. Instead of baking cookies to decorate, buy them. Most children need little to feel included and loved, especially when they are getting to help mom.

Children can sound very self-centered when it comes to things they look forward to, such as Christmas traditions. It's hard not to get your feelings hurt when your child asks if the family is still going to go caroling or some other activity that you clearly couldn't take part in.

But you have to see that from their side, if these things continue, it is a sign that the family is going to go on. It is their stability and normal, so making that happen, whether new traditions or old, says life goes on.

And for me, the look in a child's eyes on Christmas says the same thing.

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