“It’s Dr. Seuss meets Charlie Brown,” my friend Jessie said.
She was talking about our Christmas tree. Cancer had robbed us of our free time, and the holiday crept up on us like a thief in the night. We were unprepared.
So, my husband and daughter wandered into the forest near our house, found an awkward-looking pine branch that was once part of a majestic towering tree, and tossed it into the back of our truck. When they got home, they jammed it into a bucket of water, strung up a few lights and assembled a train around the trunk.
“It’s weird,” Lauren said while she dangled a giant snowflake ornament on one of the limbs. “But our family is kind of weird, too, so I guess it’s OK.” From the glow on her face, I knew she loved the adventure we were having, the crazy outside-the-box Christmas we were creating on the fly. Gary and Lauren’s cheeks were pink from the chill in the air, and they made hot chocolate from packets that never would have crossed my threshold if my health were better. Generally, I’m a stickler for pure food.
Later that night, we hosted our annual cookie exchange, an extravagance of sugar, carbs and fat that involves plenty of wine, too. Kids run rampant throughout the house, and the trampoline in the back yard is festooned with Christmas lights that jiggle while too many kids jump up and down and try to outdo each other with tricks.
I grew up with six siblings, so ignoring safety issues – like an under-age crowd in the dark on a trampoline – comes fairly easily for me. Plus, many of our friends are physicians or nurses, so I assume they’ll handle the crisis if a kid takes a hit.
Gary doesn’t seem to notice the potential for injury. “They’ll be fine,” he tells me regularly when, for example, I point out that a half-dozen children are heading up the stairs with a piece of cardboard to see how many can pile onto it before they go careening down.
I was tired that season, too tired to generate my usual smorgasbord of culinary treats or to enjoy the fabulous wines and ports that make Northern California famous.
Cancer or not, life goes on.
I took a back seat that evening, letting things slide instead of making sure every detail was seen to before our house guests arrived. My husband dumped frozen guacamole into an inappropriate bowl and set a bag of chips on the counter. But when our friends came, they didn’t seem to notice that our tablescape was diminished.
That night, I sat in the dining room’s candlelight listening to great friends share stories. The kids had disappeared, scattered in every direction, except for the few who crashed on the couch or in the guest room with sticky hands and cookie crumbs in their hair.
At some point during the evening, it dawned on me that I was experiencing a perfect holiday, that with all my uncertainties and worries, the essence of my life’s trajectory was unfolding in perfect order.
Christmas that year gave me a chance to acquire a new perspective, but I didn’t know at the time it would be a lasting gift.
Through my experience with cancer treatment, I came to understand that being open and receptive to the greater good that can flow from every happenstance is the way I want to live my life. And now that I’m better aware of that lesson, I practice it consistently. It’s made my life more meaningful.
Glitter doesn’t have to fade when the lights are unplugged and the ornaments are in storage. This Christmas, as you navigate the holiday season with cancer in your equation, I wish you a moment of clarity, a nugget you can take with you to light your path wherever it leads. And in that nugget, may there be peace.
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.