How cancer impacted my holiday season

How cancer impacted my holiday season

By Heather Brown

The holiday season and the traditions our family follows have always been important to me. I have fond memories of the holiday season as a child. I love the holidays for many reasons, including spending time with family and friends, baking my favourite Grandma recipes with my children, decorating my house, listening to my favourite holiday music CDs, and reflecting on the year coming to an end and the start of a new one.   

The Christmas season of 2017 was different for me and my family. I was recovering from treatment after my diagnosis of thyroid cancer in July 2017 and my total thyroidectomy surgery in September 2017. I was preparing to have my radioactive iodine treatment in mid-January 2018.

I remember this specific holiday season as a blessing, but so tiring. I had so much to be thankful for and the holiday season was a great reminder of that. I was thankful for my family and friends who loved me through the challenges. I was thankful to work for an amazing employer who took my diagnosis and treatment in stride and was always standing beside me. I was grateful for the healthcare I received from my team of doctors. I loved indulging in delicious holiday meals and treats.

However, it was also more exhausted than other years had been. My body was tired — tired from the cancer surgery and treatment, tired from adjusting to my important medications, and tired from the busy life that came from being a wife and parent of two children under the age of eight.

My mind was still adjusting to my new job that I started three weeks prior to my diagnosis.

I also was struggling with survivor’s guilt. My family had lost someone special to us from cancer in late October 2017. It was hard to process through those feelings.

I wasn’t ready for a long, busy few weeks. I pushed myself through it because I needed to for my kids.

Come the start of 2018, I was outright wiped. It was not the way I had hoped to start a fresh year. Reflecting after the holidays I realized that I was lacking some balance and that this was important to incorporate into my holiday season. It was never about how many or what kinds of gifts or if everything went perfectly according to plan. I asked myself two questions: “What good is a busy holiday season if I am too busy to enjoy it?” and “What are the parts of the holiday season that I want to emphasize for my children?”

My body and mind both needed me to work to find balance moving forward. It wasn’t worth causing myself extra exhaustion. The kids won’t remember if I don’t bake everything that I had planned or if we don’t always go to see the Holiday Train or Santa Claus parade. The gingerbread houses didn’t need to turn out perfectly. I looked for the parts of the traditional activities and gatherings that I could adjust to make it a bit more manageable. Things like shopping in advance as much as I can, wrapping gifts a few weeks before gatherings, allowing myself grace when I feel tired to relax, and reminding myself to reflect with gratitude on the activities and feelings that come at this time of year have helped me to ease pressures that come with the holiday season.

Balance resulting from my cancer experience has opened my eyes to more of the cheer and blessings that come with each holiday season, and this in itself is a gift I am gracious to receive.

[Image description: My children’s awesome Oreo cookie cottage creation set on the table in front of our Christmas tree with many favourite decorations and lights]

[Image description: Our Christmas tree this year, glowing with cheer and warmth. Included around the tree is the small wooden puppy gate to keep the dog from getting under the tree]

Submitted photos


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