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A family holds hands around a holiday dinner table

Cancer and the Holidays

Thanksgiving and Christmas are my most favorite times of the year. I love the gatherings, the cooking, the decorating, the shopping, the crisp air, the holiday candles, the Christmas music, the cheesy Hallmark movies, the Christmas events, the musicals, the tree lighting ceremonies, the wonder that is Christmas — I love it all!

Fond holiday memories

I remember as a little girl being so anxious to decorate the tree. I would help my mom, grandmother, the neighbors and anyone else that dare mentioned hanging an ornament. My grandmother was constantly baking and making candies throughout the season for friends and to use as gifts and functions. We would sit by the tree with only the twinkling lights with Christmas music playing softly on the old record player usually Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby. I am still a traditional Christmas music fan. Those old songs never get old and they bring back memories of my childhood.

What happens if you’re diagnosed near the holidays?

Two years ago in October of 2017 when I was diagnosed, I said to myself that I hoped to have Christmas with my family that year. I wasn’t sure what the next day would hold not to mention the next few months.

I was extremely new to this disease. When was I going to feel like I had cancer? I wondered when I would develop symptoms because I was asymptomatic and remain that way today. I remember thinking that I felt fine and didn’t feel as though anything was wrong and surely I would make it. Then Christmas came and went and the uncertainty of next year while packing up the decorations to store for the year was lurking loudly. Will I see it again? And thankfully, I did.

Do you fear the holidays?

Here we are approaching another Christmas and I am already thinking about the gatherings and the hosting of friends and family in my home. I feared being sick at Christmas and unable to attend the things that I love so much. I didn’t want to be sick and be a burden. I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me or canceling something because of me. Do we cancel gift giving?

All these things went through my head. I’ve expressed to family members to not worry about gift-giving. Just being able to get together and laugh and have fun and play games and fellowship is all enough. My cancer journey has taught me to let go of “stuff” and focus on the memories and the quality time spent with my loved ones. I still enjoy the gift-giving. However, I find myself going down a morbid road sometimes thinking will this be the last gift they receive from me. I go on to think that I should get something that will last. The mind is more dangerous than cancer it seems sometimes.

Hoping for a progression-free holiday

A couple of weeks ago I had my four-month scans. I was scared to be sick in the holiday season yet again. I wasn’t ready to give up my hair should I be put on infusion chemo. Would I be in the hospital getting a port? Would I have to quit my part-time job? Would I be able to keep going? There were photos to be taken for Christmas cards. There are trips to take and friends to see. Please not yet. Please.

I am certainly not above anyone and often feel guilty for having such an easy journey thus far compared to my fellow warriors. I’ve not experienced the shift of resistance and it terrifies me. Hearing the word “progression” would be hard to hear no matter the season. It’s never an ideal time for sure. Thankfully, I heard the glorious words I so desired to hear. I spent so many sleepless nights being afraid of something I could not control. The relief was an adrenaline rush. I am grateful.

Where should your focus be during the holidays?

I have found myself making a point to not focus on my cancer during gatherings. When people ask how I am doing, I answer just like everyone else in the world. When asked more specific questions, I answer them, but quickly change the subject because the focus is on making memories and not my illness. I don’t crave sympathy. I want to live as normally as possible and have done so. If I feel like helping in the kitchen, I jump in — otherwise, I have a good excuse, right?! I am just kidding about all of that, but it is true.

At the end of the day, I have a life-shortening incurable disease that so far allows me to keep living and thriving and making a difference. It makes me slow down a bit and be grateful for the little things and especially another Thanksgiving and Christmas with my loved ones. The healthy world should adopt my perspective shift. The world might be a bit kinder.

Wishing you the happiest of holidays

I am looking forward to making this holiday season the best that it can be. Regardless of where you are in your illness, I pray that you can do the same. May we all have the best holiday season yet. Make lots of memories. Take lots of pictures. Eat all the food your appetite will allow. I hope for more good days for all of us!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Gladup
    5 days ago

    I hear you Ashley. Everything we encounter feels like it may be last time, last gathering, last outing etc. Makes every moment more precious these days..

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