Rethinking Traditions

It has been almost 2 months since I blogged. I had one round of radiation on the new tumor in my left humorous and my level of pain in that shoulder has reduced significantly. I am continuing on the same treatment and will have scans again in February.

Holidays can be a way to mark time. We think of holidays past, how we celebrated, who we were with and how we felt. Feelings of nostalgia seem to sit on a precipice between wistful and despair. Sometimes our memories are not so warm and fuzzy, and sometimes the people in our memories are only in our memories now through death or severed relationships. The passage of time can be especially painful for many people. I am no exception, especially because I have metastatic breast cancer, a terminal disease. I cannot help but wonder if I will be here next Christmas. I have worked hard this year to make this Christmas one of joy and peace. I want my kids to feel and see and hear my love for them through our celebrations.

2002 – And aren’t they just the sweetest little ones?

I found a photo of my kids and my parents from 2002. When I see it, I am taken back to that day and remember the lovely chaos of Christmas morning with kids who are 5, 19 months, and 3 months. Everyone is smiling, even my dad. A few weeks after this photo, my dad’s illness took a huge turn south and he had to be hospitalized and began a long, sad struggle that only ended upon his death almost 14 years later. That struggle took me away physically and emotionally from my family way too much. It is one of my biggest regrets in life. I never found the right balance between honoring my father and living my own life with my husband and children.

The next photo in the Christmas box was from 2016. Dave and I are with our kids and my mom at a relative’s home. I had one child in high school and one in middle school and one in college. . It was our first Christmas without my dad. The smiles are evident and everyone is leaning in together. I remember that night. It felt like new beginning. My dad was finally not suffering. I wasn’t going to leave my husband and children the next day (Christmas Day) to visit my dad in the nursing home so he wasn’t alone. None of my kids were facing college decisions, part time job woes, or relationship issues. I thought we were finally on the path to peace.

Then there is the photo from last year on Christmas Eve, 2020. It was my second Christmas since my diagnosis. It was the year the pandemic shut down life as we knew it. I was in the midst of home isolation due to Covid, since there was no vaccine and my body could not be taxed with both cancer-fighting and COVID. Dave and I, along with our children and my mom are in our living room. We had dinner and watched old home movies. It was a nice evening – but definitely strained. There was so much uncertainty and chaos in the world and our lives. I had been in Barnes Jewish Hospital in St Louis a month before, after a fall at home. They found that the cancer had spread to my brain, which caused my fall. I had gamma knife on 5 brain lesions in early December and had fluid drained from my right lung the week of Christmas. The discovery that the cancer had spread to my brain significantly lowered my survival probability. My poor children were facing a new pandemic and some really awful news about me. We all wondered what the new year would bring.

Just a few days after that photo it became apparent that 2021 was not going to be easy. My oldest son dealt with starting a new job in a new city during a pandemic. My younger son was isolated in college with only remote learning. My daughter was hospitalized for weeks. They found 6 more brain lesions in March and I had gamma knife treatment a second time. We experienced a “1000 year flood” in August that destroyed half of my mom’s house and I became “project manager” of getting her house back in order. We are not yet done, all these months later. It became apparent that I could not continue working due to my cancer and my company hired someone younger, with less experience, wanted me to train him, and paid him more than me. All this made me reexamine holiday traditions as December rolled around. What would happen if I cooked absolutely nothing for the holidays? What if I didn’t make cookies or candies? What if I wasn’t involved in church music for a holiday service? What if some of the decorations stayed in storage? What if some gatherings didn’t happen? What did my family need to have a memorable Christmas?

The result of this relook at traditions has resulted in the calmest, happiest holiday season I have ever experienced as an adult. And I have stage 4 cancer!

My oldest son put up some of the decorations; much stayed in boxes. I am not physically capable of cleaning my house so I hire that done by someone who cleans better than I ever have and is the nicest person to have around. I have not baked a single cookie or made any candy. I am not playing or singing in any holiday worship services or musical productions. I did not send any cards. I cut my gift list down to the bare minimum. On Christmas Eve, every single thing eaten in this house will be store-made. And yet…

Tomorrow we will all go to church, wearing masks. This will be the first time we will all be together in a worship service since my dad’s funeral. It is the only thing I wanted for Christmas. We will come home to food prepared by someone else, board games, and singing at the piano. There is no stress. There is no anxiety. I think this just might be the best Christmas ever – despite all traditions being tossed aside.

I have no idea what 2022 will bring to my family. But I know that God will be with us all the time. I also know that my family will continue to make memories that last, even if they are breaking tradition.

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