One of my readers, Cameron, requested I post the story of his wife Heather’s journey through cancer back in 2005. Pleural malignant mesothelioma. In addition to growing tumors, cancer also manages to grow our vocabulary in ways we’d rather not. Right around the same time’s Heather’s struggle was unfolding, we were learning about medulla blastoma with my daughter Hannah’s struggle with a brain tumor in 2006.
This year I had my own journey through cancer and the wonderful world of chemo, the after-effects of which are still lingering. One of our Christmas traditions over the past 31 Christmases LaWayne and I have celebrated together is collecting a dated ornament each year, one that somehow reflects the year that has gone before. This year’s ornament isn’t technically dated, but we won’t be forgetting which year it belongs to. It’s one LaWayne picked out that simply reads “faith” in large silver letters. Not a bad sign to raise over cancer’s shadow. Faith sees beyond tumors and tests, blood draws and nausea, hospital beds and clinics, chemo and radiation anemia and numbness. Faith is the lens through which cancer and chemo themselves become wake-up calls to embrace each day, each moment for what it is, good or bad or the mixture of the two that most moments usually are; it shakes from us the folly of wishing away time, of presuming upon an endless stream of tomorrows that we imagine will just keep on multiplying like the federal deficit; it awakens us from the folly of trying to hold on to life and time and loved ones, for none are in our possession. All only pass through our open hands. We cannot stretch or preserve time. We can only appreciate and use it well – which means to use it with much love.
That is Christmas – and life – after cancer for me. And it’s a great gift.
So read Heather and Cameron’s story – and whether this is a Christmas before, during or after cancer, be thankful for today’s gifts.
A Thankful December: What Christmas Means After Cancer
The holidays mean so much to my family and me. It was just seven years ago that we had our worst holiday season ever. In August of 2005, my wife Heather and I celebrated the birth of our first and only child, a daughter who we named Lily. It was going to be our baby’s first Christmas, and we were very proud parents. While we were getting ready for Thanksgiving, we received news that made everything stop. My wife was diagnosed with cancer.
We had been in the middle of preparing for Thanksgiving and also taking care of a three and a half month old newborn. Heather was diagnosed with pleural malignant mesothelioma. While we had been looking forward to creating new holiday traditions with our family, we suddenly transitioned into planning for cancer treatment and surgery. What little I knew about mesothelioma threw me into turmoil. I was afraid of losing my family, and I braced myself for the absolute worst. For a time, the future really was uncertain.
While we celebrated Thanksgiving that year, it was a difficult time. Heather’s family flew in to be with us on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and inevitably we sat down and discussed Heather’s diagnosis. We explained what mesothelioma was and our treatment options, while also going over the intimate details of our finances like bills and assets and childcare for Lily. I hadn’t been looking forward to this conversation. I felt ashamed that I could barely keep my family afloat. Before her diagnosis, we had both worked hard and had plenty to celebrate, but after treatment, the costs kept piling on and we were reduced to a single income. Needless to say, tough times were ahead, and it was difficult to feel thankful for anything.
Without the help of our family and friends, it’s hard to say whether we would have been able to make it through. It was overwhelming at first, but I learned how much I had to be thankful for that year. Without Heather’s family helping with our bills and Lily, it would have been impossible to afford cancer treatment for my wife. It took me some time to really appreciate what that meant for my family, and now I am so thankful that we had wonderful people around us to make our lives healthy and happy again.
With this holiday season, I want to take a moment to remember all those people who supported my family during this rough time. We now have a beautiful family together to enjoy many more Christmas holidays, and it wouldn’t have been possible without our friends and family. Mesothelioma hasn’t been a part of our lives in over six years, and we look forward to spending many more Christmases together with our family. I hope that our story of hope and survival can be a source of comfort and support for all those currently fighting cancer this holiday season.