Dealing with cancer during the holiday season can be very difficult for patients and caregivers alike. Age-old traditions may be put on hold and holiday spirit may change, but that doesn't mean it can't be just as special as the past.
My dad is a two-time colon cancer survivor and if anyone understands how sacred and special each day is, it's him. He is a spectacular home cook and a master of the Italian Christmas feast. Days before the main event, he's perfecting his red sauce and meatballs, frying eggplant and creating succulent, rich lasagna. Dad works like an animal to make sure everyone has a spectacular meal and a great time. For our family, Christmas is about the birth of our Savior, time together and stuffing our faces until we can't see straight. My dad prepares everything you need to give your pending food coma a solid foundation.
To watch him assemble the glorious antipasto table - the meal before the meal - is like watching a true craftsman at work. As you stand around the huddled table, you're greeted with love, hugs and kisses as family make their way into my childhood home. Sports games, storytelling, gift-giving and laughter echoes throughout the house as we all shout between rooms.
Within a few hours the herd moves upstairs for the main event. You loosen your pants, waddle to a seat and get ready for more. Desert, coffee and cordials naturally follow dinner as the matriarchs tidy up and prepare their voices for a bloated chorus of horribly terrific off-key caroling. My cousin picks up the best Italian Rainbow cookies from Little Italy each year and I've carried on the tedious tradition of making the Struffoli, tiny fried balls of dough saturated in orange-infused honey. It's not Christmas in an Italian home without Struffoli and a table of over the top pastries.
Like the rest of my family, my father loves every part of it.
Coping with Cancer at Christmas.
So you can imagine my surprise, as I was sitting back on a Wednesday night with chemo dripping away, television remote in one hand and a ham sandwich in the other, when he dropped the bomb.
"We're not having Christmas this year,"
Dad casually stated.
I'm normally a very rational, considerate person... but if ever I wanted to throw a diva toddler tantrum it was now. "Who has the audacity to cancel a holiday on an entire family? This is ludicrous. Is it even up for discussion?"
"It's done. Cancelled!"
"Are you freaking kidding me?! This is madness!"
I'm a 36-year-old married woman with a mortgage and two cats. I think I'm entitled to an opinion here.
However, as irate as I was, I realized that I had to put the brakes on my anger, take a step back and appreciate that my caregivers - my parents and my husband - are physically and emotionally exhausted. I've been in and out of the hospital three times over the past month. One time for Deep Vein Thrombosis, another time for a pulmonary embolism, and most recently for a fall due to a lousy throat infection. As much as we strive to find the humor and blessings in our situation, we've been through hell lately.
While I'll miss our extended family, I have to recognize the sacrifices my caregivers make for me every day and allow us all to have some down time this Christmas. A scaled-down day certainly doesn't mean we won't eat well. I'm so grateful for my parents and knowing them, they'll find a way to make this Christmas memorable and special.
Christmas with my family is simply spectacular, and it will be this year as well.