The Three Ghosts of Christmas For Cancer Survivors

December 20, 2020
Debbie Legault
Debbie Legault

Mother, grandmother, librarian, military spouse, family life educator, take your pick! Debbie Legault was born in British Columbia, Canada to a former RCAF airman father and a Scottish War Bride mother and has lived in other Canadian provinces, Germany and California. Her latest role is as the author of “Mom...It's Cancer”, the story of supporting her 27-year-old daughter as they experienced breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The timeless tale of A Christmas Carol not only shows us how to be a better person, but how to look at the entirety of our cancer journey and what may lie ahead.

Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year, but because we were so far apart from family when my children were growing up, we had to create our own traditions. We built on those year to year, so now we hum with anticipation as the advent calendar windows are opened leading up to the big day.

Recently, however, I was thinking of Dickens’ The Christmas Carol and his famous three ghosts and how they very much represent my life now. Living in a breast cancer world holding my 29-year-old daughter’s hand both literally and figuratively as we celebrate not only the holiday, but the fact that she is still here.

The Ghost of Christmas Past tells the story of our lives before March 15th, 2019 when life was full of unbridled joy and we lived inside the bubble of innocence at what the future would hold. When the most important dates on the calendar were birthdays, and anniversaries, and parcel delivery deadlines for those little things I’d find in online artisan shops that I knew would light up my children’s eyes on Christmas morning. When my biggest worries were whether or not a snowstorm would prevent a plane from taking off or landing, because I couldn’t wait to hold my children in my arms and breathe them in.When all my Christmas memories were full of laughter, surprise and fun.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is a bit of a different place. There is still joy, there is still the hum of anticipation, but the tune has changed to a slightly more hesitant melody than it was before. Last Christmas my child was recovering from chemotherapy and surgery and looking forward to radiation after the holidays. I remember feeling such gratitude that I could look over and see her sitting there, a spiked eggnog in her hand as we laughed at the antics of her niece and nephew. We both knew that she still had a way to go in her treatment plan, but for just that little while we both lived in the moment—both of us aware of what a very big moment it actually was.

This Christmas the most sparkly eye-catching decoration, our very own Christmas star, is the fact that cancer is not going to be sitting with us at the dinner table as we dig into the turkey and mashed potatoes.She hit one year of remission on December 6th.And when we all look over at her as she laughs and teases her family, she will look like her, the cancer face and bald head left behind as she sports her new style of big earrings and a tiny bobby-pin-supported ponytail behind her head.

The Ghost of Christmas Future has a dark side, but like how the main character of the story changes his fate I am full of hope that science will find a way for my child to be dancing around the Christmas tree for many years to come. Cancer doesn’t offer you a choice when it gifts you with its presence. You are pulled down the road of whatever treatment has worked before in the hope that it will kill the invader.

In Adrienne’s case, it worked, and she is cancer-free—for now. I know that due to its nature, cancer is always going to try to nudge its way into our Christmas celebrations to sneak the last piece of pie, but one big thing my daughter has going for her is she has been given the greatest gift of all…time.

Time for science to catch up. Time for someone to think outside of the box and take a different direction that proves to be the right path. Time for a researcher somewhere who is looking for a cure to find one.Time for hearing the words “It’s cancer” to be followed by a “Pick up this prescription on the way home and you’ll be good in a couple of weeks”.

Time for hope.