A large family gathered around dinner together

To My Newly Diagnosed Self: Holidays and Celebrations

Last updated: December 2022

Typically, in years past, around this time, I am usually finished with holiday shopping and starting to think about wrapping and scheduling gift exchanges. This year, after a recent bout with IV chemotherapy and all the side effects and fatigue that come with it, I am feeling behind. I pride myself on being a good gift giver, thinking carefully and in depth about obtaining the perfect gifts for those I care about, but that's a harder life these days.

Holidays after diagnosis

This holiday season is the sixth since my de novo Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) diagnosis in 2017 and my experiences with the holidays has really changed over the years. The first few years, I was obsessed with everything being perfect and somewhat over the top so that my children would remember. That effort has waned over the last few years, but thinking about this time or that being my last is ever present.

I can't help but think about what last memory of me will stick.

To my newly diagnosed self

It's hard to explain how heavy that feeling is, how much those feelings get in the way of actually enjoying family time. I've gotten somewhat better at disciplining my mind not to immediately go there when I start thinking about planning or arranging a celebration. Somewhat. It's always lurking somewhere.

And so, I began to think about what I would tell my newly diagnosed self. Based on my own experiences and those of others, here's my top five recommendations:

  1. Don't spend a lot of money. While it may make you feel good to get the latest and greatest and most expensive new thing for your loved one, they won't remember the stuff. Your loved ones will remember experiences.
  2. Prioritize time. I don't "work" in advocacy more than I used to work while managing my law firm pre-diagnosis, but I still devote a lot of time and effort outside my home and family. Set aside family time and make it your priority. Go to the school holiday parties, be with your children or loved ones whenever possible.
  3. Take lots of pictures. I can always think of an excuse not to be in a picture -- I don't like the way I look, I'm not wearing makeup, the excuses are endless. Pictures will survive long after we have left this earth and remind those around us that we were present with them in the important moments. Take all the pictures.
  4. Leave notes behind. A friend suggested this -- when she puts away the ornaments and decorations every year, she leaves notes. When she opens them the next year, the notes encourage her and it also helps to know that those notes will be there for the next person opening those boxes.
  5. Be in the moment. I think this is my #1 lesson from living with MBC. Because I'm the designated planner (and every family has at least one), I am usually thinking about and planning about 1000 things all the time. What my kids and other loved ones need is not that effort, but my focus and presence NOW.

And now it's your turn -- what have you learned about holidays and celebrations living with MBC that you'd like to tell your newly diagnosed self?

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