I’m writing this to the women and men who are in the midst of cancer treatment this Christmas season. Oh how you will miss the normalcy of Christmas as you have always known it. In a flash of hearing those words, ‘You have cancer” everything in life is changed. Now, this very unwelcomed guest has arrived in your household, and there is absolutely no way to get rid of them except to learn how to co-exist.
One of the difficulties of Christmas for many cancer patients is not only feeling so sick, it is the awkwardness of seeing family or friends you may only see infrequently. You feel their angst about your now being a cancer patient, as they do not know what to say. Often they say things that make you feel worse. Frequently, the conversation goes to people they know or have heard about who have died from the kind of cancer you have. I hear this realistic complaint over and over from cancer patients. Truly, most people mean well, but simply are terrified of the whole cancer thing and just do not know what to say.
Financial concerns are a HUGE issue at Christmas when you do not have cancer, let alone with cancer. No matter how much insurance you have, cancer is expensive. No one will expect you to buy too many gifts this year. Take advantage of it!Melissa, a Breast Cancer survivor of 5 years, vividly remembers going through “Red Devil” Chemotherapy on Christmas. She remembers believing that it was her last Christmas on earth to be with her husband and son, but she was too sick to do anything but remain on the couch. Five years later, Melissa says she enjoys Christmas to its fullest and is so thankful for who and what she has in her life! She lives more simply in a smaller home and chooses to spend her money on her loved ones rather than herself.
My sister, Diann, spent two Christmases in cancer treatment and recovering from major surgeries from Stage 3 Breast Cancer. She remembers it well – sitting in the recliner, turning down every invitation, going to the hospital for treatment on Christmas Eve, and being so sick she was not able to do anything socially except with immediate family. Diann especially remembers wearing a mask on Christmas Day because her young grandkids had sniffles. Also, this vivid memory will make you smile: she was fearful her wig would melt if she got too close to the fireplace!
Now as a cancer survivor two years later, Diann said that every small thing she is able to do this Christmas brings her joy. Things that used to be a burden to her at Christmas are now very fulfilling. Diann relates that spending that time in the recliner so sick you want to die, taught her many things about living.
I spent a Christmas in treatment recovering from Mastectomy surgery and in painful anticipation of chemotherapy which was starting on December 27th. Christmas was full of fear for me that year wondering if I would live or die and have the strength to get through grueling chemotherapy treatment. Clearly, I remember out-of-town friends and family coming to visit me and wishing me well. They were so kind and loving to visit, but I felt I was in a numbed stupor. My body was present but my brain was on another planet. If someone would have told me that day I would be here 6 years later to celebrate Christmas, I would not have believed them. Gratitude pours from my soul every day, especially this Christmas.
Because of the lessons my sister and I have learned having Cancer at Christmas, we have collectively simplified our Christmas now by drawing names for family gifts, having more potlucks and sharing of duties so no one is overworked, and enjoying simple things to celebrate the meaning of Christmas. We spend more time in church to celebrate our faith. God’s grace is always present as we appreciate our lives and abilities.
One of the very first big sister unsolicited things I said to Diann after her cancer diagnosis was this: “Appreciate your time in the recliner no matter how awful you feel and painful it is. There will be days when you are “better” that you will miss those days in the chair.” We laugh about that quite often as she has learned my advice to be true. The other day Diann and I went to do some Christmas shopping at Walmart with let’s say an unfriendly crowd. We were feeling a little stressed. First, I tried to console us by saying “better than chemo” then we look at each other and laugh. Then Diann says “I miss my recliner.” We laugh some more.
It is hard to even comprehend since you are going through that first year of Cancer at Christmas, but there will be times in the future you will be able to laugh at some of the tortures you went through to get to be a cancer survivor!
My prayer for you this Christmas is that you will find HOPE in simple things. No, you do not know what the future holds. You only have today. May God give you the courage and strength to appreciate this day and this Christmas.