holidays after cancer

The Real Gifts During The Holidays Aren’t From The Mall

My breast cancer treatment journey ended in the middle of December 2017. Christmas had arrived at the cancer centre, during the last leg of my treatment–radiation. I remember it evoking a mixture of emotions – I was super excited to be DONE! I was eager for this special time of year, yet I was also sad. Sad as I watched a place filled with cold, anesthetized walls strive to become one of good cheer and happiness.

I observed others, one December day while waiting at the centre. (You wait a lot when you have cancer- results, blood work, scans, MD). I scanned the faces and body language of my cancer family, looking for some insight about the disease. Looking for some hope, I suppose. I had a rapport with this community and I felt sad for those who could not leave the hospital for the holidays. Sad to see little bald frail children, grasping a parent’s hand, both forever scarred from the cancer regimen. I sympathized with those receiving treatment during Christmas.

Cancer doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop for Christmas, birthdays or holiday vacations.  It doesn’t stop so you can go to your children’s holiday concert. Somehow you have to keep your head up and stay strong. “Chin up”, I remember telling myself during various stages of my treatment.

I recall speaking to my three children about these feelings that Christmas had summoned in me. Yes, Christmas was about gifts, food, music and stories but it was a hard time for some families. It was important for us to remember how very thankful we had to be.

Thankful that my long treatment course (chemotherapy, mastectomy, and radiation) was finally over. Thankful that the chain of cancer had finally loosened its grip and I (and my family) were FREE of treatment. Well, not entirely free of it – are you ever done with cancer? It seems to always be poking or whispering something to me. Hopefully that will dissipate in time.

Yet, I had been given a gift. A gift of appreciation. The gift of love. The gift of health. The gift of time. These are the true gifts of the holiday season. Yes, I did have love and many good things in my life before cancer but I notice and cherish them more now. I am definitely more content and happy for my life after battling cancer.

I watch my children sleep at night and just feel grateful to have that moment. Thankful that I am present and able to be there. When school sucks for my children or they have a bad day, I am so grateful that I can be there to listen and give a warm hug. I am happy that I can find that hockey sock that has gone missing. Things that at one point in my life drove me bananas, I now take them on with a smile on my face. Sign me up – I’ll be that mom.

I remember being a bit lost after my cancer treatment – this crazy journey had stopped and where was I? What was I? I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize that person staring back at me. I was bald, had several scars and even tattoos from radiation treatment. Part of me wanted to get back into my car and drive over to the cancer centre where my friends were. After all, I had just finished going there every day for the past 33 days for my radiation treatments and it was my routine. I had an awesome playlist for my drive to pump myself up. Where would I now be without my anthem of Eminem and “Lose Yourself” before heading in for treatment?

The cancer centre had become my place. I had my team. I had a bathroom I liked (it seemed cleaner, germs are not your friend during chemotherapy). I had a chair that was hidden away from the kerfuffle of the centre. A place where I could sit to gather my thoughts or sneak a few pages of my book.

I didn’t drive over to the cancer centre that day and instead, took a few quiet days at home. I walked my dog. I started to embrace the festive season in my own quiet way: decorating my house, hanging a bird feeder, having some quiet moments with my three children, husband, dog, family and friends.

I cooked and baked, too. I had been a freelance food writer before cancer came calling and had just launched a website a few weeks before being diagnosed. I am still a food writer but it is just taking some time to find that person again.

The holidays are a busy time for families but when isn’t a busy time for families? I remember the day that I found out I had cancer and I said to the radiologist, “I can’t have cancer. This must be wrong. I have three active kids. We are a pretty nutty, busy family. I don’t think I can fit this in?” He looked at me and said, “You will have to find a way. You have to do this, you have stage three breast cancer.” In my mind, I often go back to the shock of that day. Cancer, for me, has brought on so many feelings of both reflection and appreciation.

Holidays are busy but enjoy them and appreciate all that the holiday season can bring to you. Savour it all. Take time to close your eyes and be thankful. I know I will. – Kate Dowhan

To read more stories about facing the holidays after being diagnosed with breast cancer, click here.

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