by Aimee Taylor
Every year of my childhood, I picked out a variation of the same Christmas gift for each of my parents. My dad got a Garfield cartoon book and anything Beatles-related; my mum got Crabtree & Evelyn hand soap of varying scents. They always received each gift with enthusiasm, and I was made to believe they were overjoyed with my choices. It wasn’t until I was a teen, when I found the abundance of soaps on a back shelf and some unopened books, that I realized their enthusiasm was only for my benefit (and seriously, who actually enjoys Garfield?).
Christmas was always a magical time when I was a child. When I became an adult, much of that changed when I was married to someone who was not a fan of Christmas due to loss, and while she grieved for the month of December, I felt I had to let go of my past enthusiasm for the season. When I gave birth to my daughter almost five years ago, I wanted to recreate the magic I’d felt as a child, but it felt strange to celebrate after my advanced cancer diagnosis. I finally began to understand my partner’s grief.
It’s easy to shut down after trauma. At times, it is hard to feel celebratory when there is nothing but bad news from the oncologists. I’ve had years where I’ve spent almost the entire season in and out of a hospital bed, or in near-isolation because of my compromised immunity. It is hard to attend holiday parties and answer the same questions about my health again and again. It is hard to get excited about eggnog and gingerbread when they don’t agree with your chemo-induced nausea. It is especially hard to keep up with a young child, who wants to do so much over the holiday season, when fatigue is at its worst. We only had one Christmas as a family of three before my partner left. And it was then that I made a promise to myself: I would do my best to celebrate the season for the benefit of my daughter. So, for the first Christmas my daughter and I spent alone, I used what little money I had and bought an abundance of decorations, and made it a holiday that I enjoyed again.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned that celebrating life’s small blessings is essential, especially when I’m not sure how many I have left. My daughter is already immersed in Christmas magic, and I love it. My new partner enjoys the holiday season as much as I do (dare I say maybe even a little bit more?). For me, cancer loses its power when I refuse to let it dictate my every day. Instead, I try to live each day with purpose, and if my purpose is to eat chocolate and watch corny Christmas movies, so be it. I remain hopeful that I have many more Christmases with my daughter, so that I can pretend to love the gifts she gives me.
Aimee Taylor is a past retreat participant and member of Callanish’s YACN (Young Adult Cancer Network). She is a writer, researcher, musician, mother and more.