christmas and cancer

I Was A Grinch Before Cancer

To say that I love everything about Christmas would be an understatement. My heart swells when I drive up to my new house with the twinkling Christmas lights on. Looking at my tree (that I put up in November!), immediately helps me feel less anxious. Wrapping presents makes me feel closer to my mom who lives four hours away. I try to channel her amazing wrapping skills even though I end up with a patch job when I inevitably cut the paper just a touch too small (that always makes me laugh). Even though I can recite all my favourite Christmas movies by heart, I love watching them with a cup of Bailey’s, underneath my blanket, laughing and smiling throughout the entire thing. And for me, there is still so much excitement waking up on Christmas morning. Yes, I am in my 30’s but now I get to experience the holidays through the eyes of my 10 nieces and nephews, which is so magical.

However, I didn’t always feel this way about the holidays. You could say I was even a bit of a Grinch. I was always a bit grumpy around the holidays because of unrealistic expectations that of course no one could live up to and thanks to my disdain for small talk, socializing with people I only saw once a year was just so tiring. Christmas music was especially irritating so my compromise to family members was to not complain about it on Christmas Day.

But then in 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and everything changed. This was in August and by mid-September, I was in the middle of chemo treatments. I had chemo every three weeks and had my routine down. The first week I felt the worst and really relied on my husband to take care of me. The second week I could do more around the house and by the third week I was facing the “new normal” version of myself and made all the plans for that week. Being an organized person, I made sure to start my Christmas shopping early that year to take advantage of my good days. When I crossed people off my huge shopping list (I have 21 people in my immediate family), I felt accomplished, and more like a normal person. The tradition of putting up our tree early started that year when my husband put up our tree at the start of November so that I had something beautiful to look at during my bad days. Everything is a little bit better when you have twinkling lights to look at. I also felt really loved because my whole family who lives four hours away came to Toronto for Christmas that year.

Cancer even changed my perspective on Christmas music and holiday socializing, too! I can admit that I am now that annoying person who listens to Christmas music in November. Doesn’t it just make you happy to be able to sing along to EVERY song on the radio? (No, just me?)

Since my cancer diagnosis, I make a bigger effort with the important relationships in my life. I couldn’t have made it through my cancer treatments as well without the help of my people. This experience made me realize that we can’t get through life alone. We need people in our corner to pick us up when we are down and celebrate our victories. So, bring on that holiday socializing!

After my diagnosis four years ago, I celebrate everything. I acknowledge the day I was diagnosed; I welcome getting older each birthday, and sure, Valentine’s Day is a cheesy, made-up holiday but isn’t it fun to show people that you love them? I’ll never say that being diagnosed with cancer was a good thing but lots of good things have come from my diagnosis, including having my heart grow three sizes that day. – Emily Piercell

Click here to read more stories about the holidays.

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