When Christmas Takes on a Whole New Meaning
Ask anyone I know, and they will tell you, I am just a big kid when it comes to Christmas. I have always loved Christmas, the magic of Christmas.
I love the lights, the decorations, the smell of a real Christmas tree, the food, the movies, the music. I love giving gifts. I love to see my nieces' faces when Father Christmas video calls them on Christmas Eve.
Everyone seems to be a lot happier at Christmas.
Cancer doesn't care
Of course, cancer doesn't know what time of year it is. Many must go through a new diagnosis or treatment during the holidays which makes it extra hard.
I am a very organized person. I buy presents ridiculously early so by the time the calendar turns over for November, cards are already written, and most gifts are wrapped too. I have Christmas engagements in my diary and the excitement of Christmas begins.
A world turned upside down
Only back in 2017, following my bladder cancer diagnosis and planned life-saving surgery, my world was turned upside down. Every one of the things I associate with Christmas was thrown up in the air and crashed back down in front of me.
Ahead of my surgery on November 1st, I spent a period mid-October in the hospital. My blood, among other things, wasn’t on track and needed correcting before my surgery could move ahead.
During this hospital stay, I turned 41. It was a bad night before my birthday and I remember thinking, "What if this is it? What if this is my last birthday ever and this is how I am spending it?"
What followed, can only be described as an almost surreal 10 days at home between a hospital stay to stabilize me ahead of my planned surgery.
Celebrating Christmas with cancer
I felt overwhelmed by all that I needed to do during this time. Certainly, in my mind, I needed to do them. Feeling very weak and in a lot of pain I started, with help from my husband to batch cook meals to be put in the freezer as I wanted my husband to have food to eat when I was in the hospital.
He could have gotten take-out food or have eaten with family but this was something I needed to do.
I wrapped Christmas presents. It was physically difficult to do but even more so emotionally. Tears ran down my face as I instructed my husband who to give what to as I wasn't attending the festivities.
I got my husband to make me cue cards with key phrases I could hold up as I know some people can't initially communicate effectively after total pelvic exenteration surgery.
I had Zoom calls and in-person catch-ups with family, friends, and colleagues. It was of course never said on either side but in the back of my mind, I was saying goodbye possibly for the last time to those who meant the most to me.
Surviving bladder cancer and celebrating Christmas
The first of November arrived - All Saints Day. Whether or not you are a believer, I know someone was looking down on me that day.
Before my operation and when I was struggling with so many emotions, I told myself if I was able to cope with what I was left with, I would wake up and if I couldn't, I wouldn't. I found peace in this.
I made it through the operation and was so fortunate to have minimal post-operative complications.
I made it home in time to dress the tree and put up the decorations with lots of help from my husband. I spent a lovely period looking forward to Christmas. Again, with lots of help in the kitchen, I had my family in our home with us for Christmas Day dinner.
That Christmas was extra special - it was magical. I had been given the best gift that keeps on giving, the gift of life. There is nothing more precious.
A new meaning to the Christmas season
To this day and for all these reasons, as the calendar turns to November, the magic of the Christmas season lights up my day and I will be reminded forevermore of the most magical and special gift I will ever receive.
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How long did you wait before telling others about your diagnosis?