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.