By Jenn Landa
Whatever your background may be, the holiday season can become overwhelming – family, schedules, traditions, feasting, social, shopping, and the never-ending daily grind. For years (even pre-cancer), the list above became a daunting task, where it seemed impossible to just find Christmas.
This isn’t going to be a Ba-Hum-Bug kind of post… I love holidays and everything that the simplistic side of it represents. Unfortunately, the past few years have added layers of confusion and emotions that continue to be a challenge.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2014. I remember that Christmas so clearly. I had undergone 8 treatments of chemotherapy and had a double mastectomy on Halloween (I was literally my own version of Frankenstein – stitched back together and feeling green from the anesthetic). As a joke and an ode to the Christmas spirit, I wrote a letter to Santa asking for hair. Christmas miracle or not, a blonde halo of peach fuzz started growing in at the beginning of December, giving me a full head of baby soft sprigs by the time Christmas morning rolled around.
A lot of people ask how cancer has changed my outlook on life. I have always been the person that lives for the little things. The simple pleasures – morning sunrises, crunching the leaves in the fall, the tiniest of silver linings in any gloomy day. Cancer didn’t create those appreciations for me, but it did ensure that I found intention or presence of such moments in every day.
Through an unfortunate set of circumstances, my cancer free life was a short-lived experience. After a year and a half of trying to create and settle in to my new normal I began having some pains and issues sending me into a spiral of déjà vu.
Fall 2016: You have cancer.
Wait…what? Am I dreaming? Wake Up! Stage 4. Metastatic. Tumours. Spread. Bone. Brain. 10 Mets. 10…in my brain. Short months. What? What does that even mean? Appointment after appointment. Doctor after doctor. Palliative care? Wait…Why do I have a palliative doctor? Is this what dying feels like? When is this nightmare going to end?
Christmas that year was a blur. T’is the season. The time was used to share the bad news. I’d lost my own voice, sense of self, direction and all those little joys. There was no new normal; just a crumbled pile of chaos and fragments of a person I couldn’t even recognize.
December 2017: MERRY CHRISTMAS! Liver Mets.
New Year, new you. That little stubborn voice inside me pipes up. I guess with the 10 brain mets, there are really a lot of voices up there (I’ve found a lot of comfort in dark humour). My friends and family often joke about the brain mets and how they vote and make decisions. 10 of them and me… majority rules! I am strong, stubborn and the bucket list keeps growing. Statistics? Cancer? ‘Get out the way – we’re making a list and checking it twice!
Wrapping up 2018: an unpredictable rollercoaster of trying to find my new normal and getting back to the simple joys of the holidays.
Christmas is a gift. Words can’t begin to describe how much such moments mean to me. But…bam. CANCER. Everyone wants the update, the latest news, how I’m feeling, ‘put that down’, ‘you go sit’, ‘don’t wear yourself out’. All coming from a place of love and care – but I am me. A living, breathing, tumour-filled me. All 11 of us sit on the same side and advocate for the holidays. I WANT to help, bake cookies, decorate the tree, and if we get snow – I WANT to build that snowman and sip on a cup of coco topped with that dollop of whipped cream and perfect sprinkle of cinnamon.
I’m 31 years old and I’m LIVING with metastatic breast cancer. It’s not a choice I made, and the endless list of symptoms and side effects often kick me in the butt for days at a time. I understand that I can’t control these things, but I can choose to keep getting up, to keep pushing forward and to find my Christmas.
Take a moment to look at those around you who are fighting and listen. Maybe they want to talk about how they feel…but maybe, just maybe, they want to be human and enjoy a moment with you where the C word isn’t the focal point of any conversation. Take this time as a gift and get back to the basics. And when all else fails – be the best thing that you can be – being ggggggrrrrreeeeaaaaatttttt at being you.