Thriving Through the Holidays Despite Cancer

Cynthia Bailey, MD|December 8, 2014

cancer survivor having Christmas dinner Holidays bring up emotions, both happy and sad ones. Holiday emotions are extra close to the surface when you have a life-threatening illness, like cancer.

This is my first holiday season as a cancer survivor with last year being my first as a cancer patient. I’m now in that critical “watch and wait” three-year phase, which is a nail-biter for us BRCA-High Grade Triple Negative Breast Cancer patients. My doctors say I look clear, but “what ifs” always linger. So, how am I choosing to go forward this holiday season? I’m acting as if I’m going to live, AND I’m acting as if it could be my last holiday season. Though this may sound odd at first, I’m actually taking the best of both scenarios and thriving with the combination. Last holiday season could have been a downer for my family and I, but it wasn’t. I received my last chemo treatment on December 9th and was in the “recovery” month (meaning, my doctors were hoping my body could muster some vitality to safely withstand surgery) before my double mastectomy. That very unwanted surgery was scheduled for immediately after the New Year. The results would tell us if the chemo worked – or didn’t – and thus if I were going to live or die from such an aggressive cancer. In the midst of all this anxiety, both my adult kids came home. We cooked together at home. We also went to “the city” (San Francisco) for a long weekend where we shopped and made memories, savoring our time together and one-on-one. In the past, I would have planned the entire holiday season. I go well beyond what I can gracefully handle to make holiday magic in the form of decorations, food and gift-giving. My family has always contributed, but I’ve always assumed the manager position as well as being the major workforce for most of our holiday activities. My family (smart people they are!) would just step back and let me do it my way. Last year, cancer forced ME to step back and let everyone else step in. It was wonderful. We made rich memories and created a new family “tradition” where mom doesn’t take over everything and is pleased with whatever evolves. It’s one of those silver linings to cancer. When we embrace the silver linings instead of mourn the loss of what was, we thrive amidst the changes that illness forces on us. This year, we are moving forward with our new “tradition.” My family decided they wanted to rent a house in Vancouver, BC where my son lives. We are all flying in and taking each day in stride. There are no real plans; we’re simply going to figure out what the holidays hold for us once we get there. Mom is not planning anything, and my energetic husband and kids will come up with something that, if I know them, will involve board games and cooking. I’m ready to be surprised – and delighted. We all agreed that none of us need anything except each other’s company – being together is the best holiday gift of all, and embracing change is how I’m thriving despite cancer this holiday season.

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