What a Mother of a Cancer Survivor Really Wants for Christmas


A mother of a young breast cancer survivor shares the letter she wrote to Santa explaining her only Christmas wish.

During Christmas 2019, my daughter Adrienne had been recovering from surgery done in between the end of 20 weeks of chemotherapy and the beginning of six weeks of radiation.The oncology team was able to schedule things so that the radiation part of her regimen would begin after the holidays. That way, she could have some time to make sure the incision from her lymph node dissection could completely heal and it would give her some uninterrupted family time to celebrate what — to us — is the most wonderful time of the year.

We all tried very hard to have a “normal” family Christmas, but cancer is not one of those things that you can sweep off to a corner, especially when the person who has it is still protecting a surgical wound and a port site from excited little ones wanting to jump on her lap, sporting nothing but a 5 o’clock shadow of post-chemo regrowth on her head, or wincing in pain when she turns just the wrong way reaching for something on a shelf.

On November 22, 2020, I was boarding a plane, in the middle of a pandemic, to be with my mother-in-law as she lay in a bed on a palliative care ward, her breast cancer having metastasized everywhere. We had been waiting for our last flight of three two days earlier to get home for the holidays when we received a text that she had been admitted. My husband and I sat silently on that plane ride knowing that our plans for a joyful family celebration full of baking, walks in the snow and oohing and aahing over Christmas lights had just taken a very drastic turn.

Christmas has been the only time for many years that we could all be in the same place.Geography and work travel have made it difficult to coordinate life, especially with my husband, so it was most often the only time of the year that we were guaranteed to have him home long enough to have a real visit. Last year we had all been counting on recapturing some of the magic knowing that my daughter had no evidence of disease (NED) and despite the pandemic, but the cloud of sadness at my mother-in-law’s passing 10 days before Christmas meant it was a more muted affair.

We all tried to make the magic for the little ones, and we succeeded, but for us there was a newly empty chair at the table that couldn’t be ignored.

In three days, the youngest of the three sisters will go for her first mammogram since screening is recommended at her age because of her sister’s diagnosis at 27. When the oldest sister went, she got called back for an investigative ultrasound because they try to be extremely thorough considering the history. It thankfully came back OK, but as a result we know that might be in the picture for the youngest as well. Adrienne’s MRI came back clear in October, but her general practitioner has ordered an abdominal and pelvic ultrasound, not because Adrienne has symptoms but just to check and see if there are metastases. Those will also be done before the holidays. And all I can say is …

Dear Santa,

I know you receive a lot of letters, but probably not many from grownups. I thought I would write one to you this year because I have some very special gifts I’d like under the tree that maybe only you can help with.

What I really need this year is a lot of nothing. Let me explain.

When my youngest girl goes for her mammogram, I need them to find nothing. If they find a “maybe something” and they send her for an ultrasound, I need them to find nothing there, too.

When my other girl goes for her ultrasounds I need there to be absolutely nothing. The biggest kind of nothing you can find. I need there to be no spots, dark areas, or suspicious blood vessels feeding mysterious creatures. I need there to be just the things in there that are supposed to be there and nothing more.

I am really counting on this Christmas to heal all of us from so many things, so the nothing I am asking for is a pretty significant piece of us being able to do that. I know most grownups don’t believe in you anymore, but I’m thinking that even if there is a glimmering chance that you exist, I will hold onto the hope that I will get what I really want this Christmas morning. I want nothing.



P.S.I’ll leave milk and cookies and veggies for the reindeer just in case.

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