Can I Just Have Christmas Back?

I will be the first person to admit that in some ways, I was dreading Christmas this year. No matter how badly I did not want to dread it, I could not shake it, and believe me, I tried! This reality greatly saddened me because I have always loved and adored Christmas in an almost childlike way. I love Christmas so much that if it were somewhat socially acceptable, I think I would do all of my grocery shopping dressed like an elf. I cannot wait to start listening to Christmas music and I feel a bit like Clark Griswald when I plug in all of those lights... I would go caroling if I could do so without making all of the dogs in the neighborhood howl like a bunch of hounds. Yep! I love Christmas and to me, there is nothing more magical than the romance of white lights, Christmas trees, and carols.

Unfortunately, my journey towards being diagnosed started in the middle of December. The lights were already up in the house when I had my mammogram and started to face the cold hard reality that more than likely I would be hearing that I had cancer. The bulbs were shimmering and sparkling on the tree in the living room as I battled with the demons in my head that I will forever think of as the "Bad News Demons". The morning that I got the final call from the breast surgeons office, I remember looking all around our home and thinking "It's still Christmas! There is no way that this can be happening!" After all, who gets a cancer diagnosis at Christmas? Seriously, I half expected the lights to all shut down with a dramatic "musical interlude" and the Christmas tree to magically sink into the ground... Because, frankly, Christmas and Cancer just do not go together.

I went all through the holiday season with the lump in my left breast throbbing and making me aware of its presence.I knew all too well that this stupid lump had the power to end my life. (No matter how much time goes by, I will never forget how painful that lump was and I am a person with a very high pain tolerance.) I gave it my best shot, I really should get an A for effort. I tried to push it to the back of my mind, I went to work, helped my husband out at the new store and attempted to make myself so busy that I would forget what was going on. I tried to not think about what was happening and bury myself in all things that were not cancer. But in no way could I grasp what was happening to me. 2013 was a bad Christmas and no amount of telling myself that everything was going to be just fine changed the fact that I knew what was around the corner. Denial is not one of my strong suites... Well, at least not in this case.

By the time Christmas rolled around in 2014, I had undergone 6 intensive rounds of chemotherapy, lost all of my hair, had my breasts and all of the tissue surrounding them removed and replaced with 2  very tiny bowling balls, my lymph nodes in my armpits were gone, and I had six long weeks of radiation. But, I was cancer free! Remission had been achieved. (Actually, I have started thinking of it more like probation which in my mind is a little cool because I have never really been much of a criminal, so probation... Okay, you really are a badass! It sounds better than remission, don't ya think?)

 So, why when I started to dig through the 20 boxes of Christmas decorations was I instantly ill? It had absolutely nothing to do with the dust that seemed to fly around every time I shook something, or the dead lizards and frogs that had chosen to die in my Christmas boxes (note to self: really need to find some other place to store the Christmas stuff, clearly the garage is not that good of a choice in Florida.) I was ill enough to put most of the boxes back and make what I will admit was a half-assed attempt at Christmas last year. I struggled though it, I really did. I put the tree up, I bought presents. I went to Honeybaked and bought a ham. I even made Christmas cards. Frankly, I was just going through the motions. There was not a lot of joy, although there should have been. My holiday spirit was gone, perhaps when chemo killed my cancer, it took the Christmas spirit too? Maybe I was too tired from everything I had just been through, or maybe it was all just too fresh. Its whereabouts were unknown to me, and I had no idea how I was going to get it back.

I remember thinking at some point over the holiday season last year that perhaps this was just the new Christmas Normal. Really? This infuriated me, I am beyond over the whole "new normal" thing. I really hate the word "NORMAL". There is absolutely no good reason why I could not be as happy at Christmastime as I have always been just because I happened to be diagnosed with a little thing called Cancer at that time of year. (Yes, I know, my timing was horrible.) But, I just could not bring myself to do it. It just was not happening, not for me, and definitely not last year.

All year this has bothered me. Cancer has taken so much from me, how could I let it have Christmas, the one time of year that I look forward to with my whole entire being? A dear friend mentioned to me that perhaps I just needed to make new, happy, and wonderful  memories at Christmastime. I could not help but think that she was right. Christmas is the fuel that keeps the wind in our sails all year long. We need that fuel and we need that magic in order to make it through the rest of the year. After a little bit of thought, I decided that I was not only going to throw myself into Christmas wholeheartedly and make a bunch of wonderful new memories, but I was going to embrace and reincorporate some of the traditions that made Christmas so magical for me as a child. And I would accomplish this if it killed me.

So there it was. I knew what the problem was and I had a solution. Let's do this! Go get your Christmas boxes! And I will confess that in those first days of beginning to decorate the house I wished vividly that I still had Xanax in my Arsenal and I opened a bottle of wine much earlier in the day that I would usually admit to doing. As I attempted to untangle 10 strings of red head garland, the killing me part seemed quite viable. The anxiety that I felt was paralyzing.

In the middle of decorating my tree, I remember talking with a fellow survivor saying that I was decorating my tree and trying not to have a complete and total breakdown or a full blown anxiety attack. The more red and green I saw the bigger the anxiety got. Yes, two years after the fact, it is still that vivid in my mind, and maybe it always will be. I cannot quite grasp the fact that I cannot remember why I am in a room or where I parked my car, but I can remember all of the emotions that I endured two years ago? How is this fair?

I did it though. My "Grinch" tree as I have always referred to it is up. I smile every single time the lights come on and I do not hesitate to stop and just look at how beautiful it is every now and then...

As you may have guessed... This story is to be continued. Stay tuned for the details of my "Taking Christmas Back" action plan.

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