I absolutely love the holidays. But this year, it hasn’t started out so great. Thanks to a horrible bout of pneumonia, I was robbed of our Thanksgiving entirely, forced to be away from my family because I was in the midst of a 15 day hospital stay while I tried to get well. While my daughters and dad went to Chuck-a-rama for dinner because no one could cook for them, and my husband was in Seattle visiting his daughter, my mom and I were hanging out in my hospital room while I ate popcorn in bed. It was awful. I was heartbroken that instead of spending several days prior cooking and baking and getting the good dishes out on the table, I was eating horrid hospital food. Instead of shopping, I was getting horrible tests to determine my type of pneumonia.
This year won’t be a typical Christmas either. I will be some 45-minutes away in a “clean” apartment awaiting my recovery from a stem cell transplant. Because I knew I would be away from home for Christmas, I had to make some BIG decisions about what the holidays meant to me, my children and family so that I could craft how to make this season work for us.
We have family traditions that run deep: big meals, lots of relatives eating together, opening gifts on Christmas eve, watching the news for Santa sightings so the girls could get in bed before his annual visit, waking up the next morning to open mountains of gifts and join more family members for food and games. It really is special, joyous and fun. And over their break from school, we were planning on baking endless amounts of cookies, going to lots of holiday parties, shopping and wrapping gifts. I bought then season ski passes and I was going to put them in ski school and arrange ski dates with friends on the slopes.
But, scratch all of that. Since I am required to move into my clean apartment in just days, my daughters and decided together that, expense aside, I would rent a two bedroom/two bath room at Marriott’s Residence Inn. It comes with a full kitchen, living room and fireplace. That meant there was room for them and my parents (my caregivers through my transplant) to join me. And while we cried crocodile tears, we purchased a tiny tree and gifts for those we love. We wrapped them and put them in a big pile to take up to my apartment.
They’ll have a few days without me before they start their holiday break and when they are out of school, they will join my parents and me in that apartment. We will be together and that is what counts. We will cook dinner and open gifts, and spend quality time together in my “clean” apartment. Ideal? No. Acceptable? Definitely.
This experience says everything about priorities. What is important to me? To my children? And to those I love most? It is love. It is time spent together. It is creating memories, whether they be “perfect” or improvised.
Getting a cancer diagnosis taught me far too much about life too quickly. It taught me that no “thing” was more important than love, family, health and memories. Before, I loved accumulating “stuff” that, really, didn’t matter a twit. Shoes, furniture, pool towels, career… And when I heard the terrifying words “you have cancer,” in that very instance, I knew what mattered: my children, parents, family and friends. I also knew what didn’t matter and had to be cut out like a tumor: my husband (now ex-husband), career, vacation house, most everything inside my home. All of it. I walked away from all that didn’t matter without looking back and without a second thought. No regrets. Good riddance. All those things that left me stuck in a virtual prison.
And here I am, four years later. Sometimes we have Big Huge Epiphanies and we change. And then, after time, we are right back where we were before the Big Epiphany. In my case, this has not happened. Over the past four years, I have not accumulated a lot more “stuff.” Sure, I have different clothing, a new cell phone, and a new car. But I have accumulated a lot more memories and experiences (none of which I would ever trade). I have spent most of my discretionary income on doing things I want to do—go skydiving, climb a trail that was on my Bucket List since college, travel like a mad woman, spend loads of evenings on mommy-daughter dates, add a new husband who I actually love and respect, and spend a ton of time driving my parents around to beautiful places I’ve discovered near my home. I went off to a polygamy compound with my best friend, Julie, and worked to refurbish a home. And, most importantly, I helped launch a web site, www.myelomacrowd.org where I share my story of cancer survivorship (and thriver-ship) and how to navigate a myeloma (blood cancer) diagnosis. We are also raising funds for two clinical trials that may be a cure. Best yet, the woman who had the idea for the site to begin with, and is my cancer-fighting hero, Jenny, and I have become friends.
And so this Christmas season, I realize that I want nothing under the tree. I don’t care about new shoes or earrings or a flat screen TV. I do care that I will be surrounded by people I love, watching the excitement of my daughters opening gifts that I spent a lot of time selecting, and gaining my health back.
A perfect Christmas? Perhaps close.