For most of us, Christmas is a particularly emotional time. An opportunity to spend time with friends and family and away from work and the things that keep us busy during the year. Personally, I have always used this time for reflection, but since 2007 it has a very special significance. It was then that I received a gift, like no other, the gift of life! My stem cell transplant took place on the 19th December and is a time I will never forget. This treatment was my only chance of surviving my cancer, and the cells had been donated by a young man aged 22 from London.
No one could say if I would even survive the process let alone continue to live, but I did, and I am! Thanks to all the incredibly selfless people involved in that, all making sacrifices to ensure I had the best chance I could. My Consultant was always around over the holidays and I received 24/7 care from nurses willingly giving up time with their families to look after me. Unbelievably I am still here writing about the experience.
So Christmas has a very different meaning to me now. I don’t get carried away with all the adverts trying to sell consumer goods, food and drink. I am just grateful to be here and be able to spend time with my family and friends. I smile when I see the chase on for the latest toys and gadgets to fulfil our never ending search for happiness. This time of the year is certainly a cause for celebration, and I do my best to do that, but my experience has changed me forever.
Although my body is fifty eight, my immune system is only seven years old, and is managing to keep the cancer in remission so I am incredibly lucky on all counts. There have been many of my friends that have not made it through and many that are very sick currently. I have stopped asking myself why, and accepted that I must make the most of what I have been given, which I am attempting to do.
Spending six weeks in an isolation unit is quite a sobering experience, particularly at Christmas, but I was warned about that and I had pictures of family and things that meant a lot to me on a memories board. There was no Wi-Fi so no emails or social media to cheer me up and keep me in contact with the outside world. ( Can you imagine that now?) I had my Crystal Palace football shirt above my bed, which everyone seemed to find amusing!
The staff were unsure about starting before Christmas, but I was in such poor condition that in the end there was no choice. My immune system was slowly poisoned over 10 days until it was like that of a new born child, then I was given my life saving transplant. A little bag of stem- cells from my anonymous donor was sent across London on a motorbike. All organised by the Anthony Nolan Charity.
I would like to share some of the more surreal moments of my festive season in 2007. Firstly, even though I was under heavy sedation, the Sister, (who was a very attractive young lady,) asked me what I wanted for Christmas. My quick reply, was her, in a tiny Santa outfit! ( Sorry ladies!) She played along and came in on Christmas day dressed as Santa! Secondly, at just past midnight on Christmas Eve, all the patients got a little present from the hospital, a lovely thought! Finally, on Christmas day, my family and friends all came in to visit me, it certainly was a unique way of celebrating. So now, I am like the Queen and have two birthdays, my official one and my new life one.
Since my illness I have had two grandchildren, and my boys are progressing in their lives. My spare time is taken up by doing lots of exciting things I never imagined I would be doing.It has taken me a long time to realise, but we are not really in charge of our lives at all! Things happen frequently to change our lives but are totally out of our control. I could never have imagined seeing seven Christmas’s after being diagnosed with a stage 4 incurable Lymphoma. So, the festive time is upon us, and as I watch people celebrating, who knows what is really going on in their lives, let them enjoy themselves! In recent years, there have been more serious moments, than lighter ones.
This year I have been able to do more things than I have previously, and have been catching up with friends, before we all go to the bosoms of our families for a few days. I made a deliberate plan to leave some of my cancer work alone and concentrate on myself, and I have surprised myself at how refreshed I feel, and how much I have enjoyed that time. Maybe slowly, I am finding a new way forward, after many years of feeling suffocated by my illness?
Once you are touched by cancer, nothing stays as it was, and even Christmas will have a very different significance. I am celebrating for a different reason to many, but am aware that many friends have been lost over this period so I understand that it is also tinged with sadness for some. That has become particularly pertinent as the years have passed.
How do you celebrate Christmas and is it a meaningful land mark for you? Has your illness changed the way you approach Christmas? As always please feel free to share your thoughts below.
Hello Chris, I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and New Year and get a well deserved break. It’s very different for me and my family this year as my father died of cancer in October so this is the first Christmas and New Year we’ll have without him. It’s, therefore, an unknown as to how it will go, we shall just have to wait and see. Mixed feelings I suppose, whereas until now I’ve simply been thankful to be seeing in yet another Christmas and New Year post-cancer. It’s new for us all now so let’s hope it’s not too difficult, especially for Mum. Take care and thanks again for everything you do. Deb xx
Hi Deb and thanks so much for sharing your own feelings about Christmas. Whilst writing that post I was aware that with my own celebration, many others lives are tinged with sadness at this time of the year. I have seen many friends and relatives that have passed at this time of the year and know how difficult a time it can be.
You also will be experiencing that mix too, and I wish you, Mum and the rest of the family the best over the holidays. As you well know there is no rule book for this and you will all deal with it the best you can.
Thanks so much for your support, and we are always here to share! Best to you Deb, Chris xx
The materialism of Christmas is simply not part of my world any more. Cancer does change everything, and one realizes that so much of what society deems to be “important” just isn’t. Stuff definitely doesn’t matter.
This Christmas I am focused on survivorship issues. Two rounds of alkylating agents have drained the calcium from my bones. I am looking at a hip replacement (not a big deal compared to cancer, but a hassle!) and now another set of variables to add to the ongoing cancer management issues. You can read my recent blog post here: http://bit.ly/1w2MqYZ
We need a conversation about survivorship and it has to be driven by patients. Einstein once noted that a problem cannot be solved with the same energy that created it. I’m inclined to agree. That means the the (U.S.) medical establishment, whose fractured, specialized, non-integrated, physician-centric delivery system causes the lack of care, cannot fix their own problem.
I recently had a conversation with a doctor at a major cancer center, a surgeon, and he simply did not get the emotional experience of cancer. Everyone gets all the support they need, was his take on the situation! I was surprised; this is a hospital that prides itself on patient care. If these guys are out of alignment on this issue, it’s most likely even worse elsewhere.
So Christmas this year is a time of reflection and gratefulness, and it’s a time of looking ahead, trying to guess the next cancer surprise on the horizon. Cancer is the gift that just keeps on giving.
I also have learned that ‘stuff’ does not matter. Even my boys when discussing family Christmas presents said they don’t need anything, as they buy what they need through the year. They said we don’t want gifts for the sake of it!
I’m so sorry to read about your terrible personal experience, and I would like to share your post in the New Year, when it will have real impact. It is truly shocking, that this can happen to you, a truly proactive patient.
We are lucky in the UK with the more joined up system of care, which of course is free. Although we are always complaining about what it doesn’t do! I have always understood the issues around care that is paid for, but that is not the real reason why you are facing your current problems.
As I have mentioned before this is also a time for reflection for me too, and whilst I have fewer complications than I have had, I may make some changes in the New Year. You are certainly correct when you say that cancer is the gift that keeps on giving, so whilst I am able to choose I will!
I wish you well over the holidays Pat, and look forward to sharing with you in the New Year. As always I am grateful for your support and hope I can reciprocate. Chris xx
Such a thought provoking post Chris. I am thrilled to hear that in stepping back a bit you have been feeling refreshed. Pacing and me time can be so good for us.
Yes Christmas is very different for us on many levels. I have learnt to use my energy with precious caution. This year I have hardly shopped at all and am feeling the benefits. So my friends and family get a more relaxed energised me rather than a stressed tired me!
I am approaching the end of the year knowing my Breast cancer has been kicked into touch and that is the best gift anyone could give me. Ever! I don’t want anything material just love, support and friendship. They are the jewels of life!
Cancer has taught me so much this year in particular and I now understand that when I rest I am giving my immune system the space to work effectively, something I hadn’t really taken heed of before. So I am hoping for a laughter filled, loving restful christmas and new year! I hope you have that too Chris xx
Thx for your lovely comments Dawn. Yes I have stepped quite a long way back in recent weeks, quite surprising myself! I think the key was not travelling around doing presentations, and I feel much better for it.
It seems that you also have found a way to deal with fatigue, which is great. Certainly like you Dawn I have learned a lot from cancer, and I am trying to carry those lessons forward. I am so thrilled at the wonderful end of year you are having, which is something to really soak up, as recent times have been so tough.
I wish you all the most fabulous Christmas and New Year, and let’s hope that things continue on a positive note in 2015 🙂 Chris xx
What a lovely post, Chris, full of joy, gratitude and humour. I love your spirit. You were the first “cancer buddy” I met online nearly three years ago now, and your cheerful “can-do” approach helped me believe in my own cancer-battling abilities. Every time I read anything written by you I’m filled with a renewed sense of hope, because your positivity just shines through and it’s contagious! You are a great role-model, Chris, thank you for all that you do. Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas, and may we both have oodles more of them in the years to come. Yvonne xx
Thx so much for your lovely comments and sharing this post Yvonne. I remember very clearly when we first met on Twitter, and I knew that not only would it help you a lot but that you could also share your experience to help others.
You have taken to it like a duck to water, and I am absolutely thrilled how your book is helping others. I have always been a positive person and have overcome many challenges in my life before cancer. I am lucky that cancer never took that from me, and I have been able to help others with their journeys.
Seasons greetings to you and your family Yvonne, and as you say, lets hope we have many more in front of us. Thanks as always, Chris xx