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    A Breast Cancer Christmas

    The children are snuggled upstairs in their beds, not a creature is stirring... you recognize the scene - the sweet peace of Christmas. There is only one part of the picture that is out of focus. None of the happy stories, songs, or poems talk about Mommy with a bald head and deep dark circles under her eyes. This is a different Christmas tale. It is a story about all the moms who will sit quietly on Christmas Eve and be grateful for the chance to spend another holiday with their family. The story is spun partly from fiction and partly from the shared stories of breast cancer survivors.

    The story of the Breast Cancer Christmas.
    Normally, the holidays are hectic and not always peaceful. Fitting together the holiday schedule of a busy family with careers, schools, and social obligations causes friction as the plans collide. The company party is on the same night as Jason's high school choral production. Linda's fourth grade skating trip is planned for the day that the town decided would be perfect for the tree lighting. Then we have to decide which grandparents get Christmas Day with us and who gets the shorter visit on Christmas Eve. Fit the shopping, wrapping and work into this and you can see exactly how peaceful the holidays are at our house. Somehow, we always manage to get it all pieced together and our Christmas memory chest is full of laughter and warmth.

    This year is different.
    The biopsy in July showed a malignancy. Unlike my pregnancies, the growth in my body this time was a hateful stranger. Surgery took out the growth and the lymph nodes that were involved, but there was the chance that some cells were left behind. That meant radiation followed by chemotherapy to kill any last traces of the breast cancer that had invaded my life.

    The radiation went well. I heard some horror stories about side effects from well meaning acquaintances trying to prepare me, but aside from a little dizziness and fatigue on the treatment days - and the irritation and itching, well, I was pretty lucky. I expected the same from the chemo. Wow, was I ever wrong. Almost every textbook side effect hit me at one time or another.

    The effect on my family has been the hardest part to deal with. Every bad day that I have is reflected in the concern in my husband's eye and the bewilderment in my children's. I didn't have a family history of cancer. I don't know what it must be like to watch your mother fighting a battle for her life. I know if my husband were the one with cancer, I would feel so helpless and be so afraid. My poor love must be going through that, but not a trace gets through. He is my strength. When my hope gets low, he's always ready with a refill. He knows all the survival statistics and never for a moment doubts that I'll be one of the survivors.

    The Gift
    One of my gifts this year is a new wig. The kids couldn't keep it secret. Linda thought it was so cool to pick the color and hair style she had to model it. Jason stepped in and tried it on over his buzz cut. Who says cancer can't make you laugh? Each day is full of these moments, each a little gift of caring and appreciation. I wonder if, without the cancer, we'd be so free with our love. The closeness of this terrible disease has made us see the treasure of each smile.

    So, I sit here among the wrapped gifts and the hung stockings. The bald head and the dark circles soon to be covered by a wig and makeup. The nausea will pass, the pain will go away. What will be left will be another Christmas memory. Some of my friends, my cancer buddies, doctors, and nurses have told me that this feeling of gratitude for every moment in every day will pass once the danger is over. The knowledge that those I love are both precious and fragile will fade from my mind as the cancer fades from my body. I hope not. I think the best gift this year is not under the tree, but woven through our family. The gift that cancer has given, despite all it has taken away, is the most valuable present in our house this Christmas.


    Elsewhere on the Web:

    Coping with Cancer During the Holidays
    Coping With Treatment During Holidays (American Cancer Society)
    Metastatic Cancer - Holiday Coping Skills




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