A family sings carols around a piano, with an older woman in the center

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Last updated: December 2022

As we begin December, it is almost impossible to ignore the coming of the Christmas and New Year holidays. Personally, I find the holidays full of meaning in my here and now. As I share with you, you will realize I have some tender memories of times past. Now, each new year represents a milestone, another day of living.

As I write to you, I hope to share my wish for us all to prepare in a way that will provide meaning and fulfillment as you live your life managing ovarian cancer. However, I realize things may be very different from what could be the most beautiful time of the year. It may be challenging and require another degree of acceptance.

Telling your story

As a family, Christmas stirs up warm memories of enormous family get-togethers. We lived on Long Island in a three-generation household where my grandmother brought forth the traditions of a true Italian Matriarch. Her five children and her ever-growing extended family created a celebration at my parent's dining room table for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

As you can imagine, the time was magical. My heart filled with joy as each new guest arrived from the "city" or other parts of the Island. The air filled with the smell of traditional food and a spirit of belonging.

The Vigilia di Natale

On Christmas Eve, tradition provides the basis for our meals. Seven fishes in honor of The Vigilia di Natale, the Vigil of the birth of Christ, recognize the impoverished Southern Italians who managed to find their way to America. Although a significant holiday, Italian Americans depart from eating meat. Instead, we offer everything from the sea, including clams, squid, shrimp, flounder, and cod.

Until recently, I guess I didn't fully realize the importance of this time. However, there is much symbolism in place. The adult children honored their 80-something-year-old mother simply by being present. Our family story showed that my grandmother and grandfather crossed the Atlantic in steerage, hoping to find a better life for all of us. Or, perhaps, it may have been the unspoken realization that each year may be her last among us.

The message

However, the message remains clear. Like no other time in the year, Christmas is a time to experience the joy of being together. Christmas genuinely serves as a reminder of family and hope. Each year, with the addition of new family members, more people join the experience. It simply meant adding a table leaf to our already large dining table or placing the young ones at a separate children's table.

Great expectation

Energy waned for the youngest of us, and we all had to pace ourselves because of the great expectation in the air. Most of us stretched our limits as we knew Santa Claus, a position rotated with honor among the uncles and aunts, would suddenly arrive with a bag of toys and many announcements about enduring arduous travels. My favorite Aunt and Godmother, Lulu, would greet Santa with a dance and take her position at the piano to fill the air with music.

Let the planning begin

I know I am not alone, but I, too, am undergoing maintenance chemotherapy during this time of the year. I will receive an Avastin infusion the day before Thanksgiving. Given my experience, the following days will eliminate the possibility for me to join in on any family dinners.

I accept that this may sound childish, but I still want it all. I especially long for a sense of belonging and togetherness. I am keenly aware that time is running through my fingers, and there will be an end date, a period at the end of my life sentence. So the holidays raise a sense of anticipatory loss and have left me even more sad thinking that my husband and I will need to isolate ourselves again. I especially regret doing this to him as he has been my champion.

Recreating holiday expectations

  • Write your holiday story. What meaning do you hold in memory for this time of year? How would you like it to be?
  • Know your own personal limits and expectations before, during, and after treatment. For example, my original goal was to celebrate on Thanksgiving day. However, given the circumstances, Sunday may be the best choice, as I sincerely hope to begin to accept food as an option by then. So this year, I will put family and friends on alert that we are requesting a movable feast.
  • Become a communication whiz. Don't assume people know what you want or need.
  • Address the necessary around gift giving. If it is pleasurable to give gifts at Christmas or Hannukah, keep yourself at the center of all possibilities. While I love giving, wrapping presents has always been overwhelming. In response, I created a staging area for wrapping all gifts preordered and delivered. If I tackle one gift at a time, I should see their end by the week of Christmas.
  • Remain gentle and forgiving with yourself. Love yourself even when you don't feel lovable. Do what you can and wish. Don't expect to have the energy of a child. Prepare family and friends that you now need to adapt to your new reality.

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