The holidays can be magical and stressful, make you thankful or hate everything. But when you add in a cancer diagnosis, treatment, or a hospital stay, or any illness to the season, you end up dealing with so much more. The season comes with some pretty high expectations and along with that, equal disappointment. I learned LONG ago to tamper expectations and try not to get carried away, but it isn’t always that easy.
Making Christmas Traditions Despite a Diagnosis
When I was about 8 years old, my dad had a horrible gallbladder attack that landed him in the hospital Christmas Eve through the 27th of December. We postponed Christmas until the 28th and you know what? It was just as magical as on the 25th. See, Christmas isn’t just a DAY, it is a tradition, a feeling, and it can be celebrated at anytime and in any fashion.
I myself was diagnosed right before Thanksgiving in 2005, and got that confirmation from my specialist right before Christmas that same year. It was my baby girl’s first Christmas and was supposed to be special and memorable, and it certainly was, but for all the wrong reasons. It was difficult, at best, to put on a happy face and pretend all was merry when I was facing such a foe. I’m eternally thankful that Lily was just 4 months old and doesn’t remember the cloud over her first Christmas.
Through the ensuing years, we did all we could to make it the best. Even with my husband on shift work and having to work Christmas Day, we knew that as long as we were together, it was ok. I also learned that it was ok to decline invites to parties or other celebrations if I wasn’t feeling well or didn’t have the energy to get through the festivities. We found that by keeping our own traditions small and intimate, it helped me immensely. That simply isn’t a possibility for some people, especially when people have family members and friends who want to pretend everything is fine, even when it’s not. We just put on a brave front, pretend everything is fine, and say thanks when people say things like “You LOOK so good!!” I know they mean well, but it also makes me wonder what they were expecting.
Facing Cancer Treatment During the Holiday Season
This time of year is especially difficult when you are in treatment or just got some news you didn’t want to hear. I asked a couple of friends, both in active treatment, to share their thoughts about the holidays and illness.
I learned to just take things in stride, and that no one needs a perfect holiday. That is just too much stress. It’s ok to take it easy, scale back, and most of all, let people help. The other thing I learned is that the holidays also bring out the best in people, and they love to help, so let them and soak up the love.
My wish for you this season is to be present, and in the moment, no matter what is going on. Just enjoy the family, the friendships, and the sugar cookies.
A big thank you to Vicki Bowen LeVasseur and Annamarie Kearns for sharing their experience and advice for the coming holidays.
“Having gone through chemo during the holidays adds more of a challenge to your treatments than during a regular, non-holiday time of year. Everyone comments “well, you look good!” and you get so tired of putting on the fake smile and thanking them for that when you really just feel like crap and are going through the motions of just getting through another day, probably no different than going through grief, really. You long for days of feeling “normal” and not sickly when the sight of food makes you ill and you just want to curl up in a ball and forget about everyone and everything. But you put on the game face and just do it.
Now this year I’m in a different situation. Still going through a treatment that doesn’t make me feel as sick as before, just tired for several days. But knowing that my disease is now growing and spreading is a gut-kicker. And once again you hear the “you look good!” But inside you know your body is fighting the battle of its life trying to survive and again, just get through the days and deal with it. Went to a football party today and everyone was so concerned (which you do appreciate) but sometimes you just want to forget about your situation and be normal.
This disease does not let you be normal. Ever. And everyone tells you to keep on fighting it and you want to scream, “I am for God’s sake!” But you smile and say you’re doing your best. You know the holidays are right around the corner but you’ve got no energy or desire to go out shopping and dealing with all that because you just don’t feel good. But you have to because you want to kick cancer’s ass and not let it “have you”.
It just ain’t easy.”
“When I was diagnosed with advanced epithelioid pleural mesothelioma, I often wondered whether I would ever celebrate another holiday season with my family. With the support from family and friends, my medical team, the mesothelioma community and a whole lot of fight, I will be celebrating my fifth Christmas. I’ll be honest, it’s been rough at times, but everyday is a gift and I am so happy to have this time with my husband, three beautiful daughters, their spouses and my six wonderful grandchildren. Hope faith and love can get you through anything. Mesothelioma will never define me. Happy holidays and never forget to tell your family and friends how much you love them and how grateful you are to have them in your life.”