My wife sat at her laptop furiously compiling the lists for our four girls. She checked it once, then again while travelling to website after website scouring the internet for the best price and delivery. Items were added to baskets and carts checked out at such a frantic pace that I literally felt a warmth emanate from the credit card in my back pocket. Shopping at a fever pitch – Christmas delivered in two days or less. Not like most years, where she disappears for hours on end to find the perfect gift at the mall. She didn’t have time for that because we got cancer for Christmas.

We didn’t ask for it. It wasn’t circled in a catalog or written in red crayon. No one sat on Santa’s lap and begged for it. No, cancer just showed up unannounced and took our year away. So rather than spending quality time with each of the girls to weigh their enormous wants against our limited budget as in years past, my wife spent Saturday morning hunting and pecking under great duress. Do they have the right size? Will it be delivered on time? Is that really something she will use, or should we just give her cash?

At some point during the madness, I asked her what she wanted for Christmas. She paused to consider. Her eyes got red and her mouth failed her. She didn’t answer, but I knew. I knew what she wanted the second I asked the question. It was the only thing either of us wanted.

We wanted our baby to stop hurting. We wanted her to stop having to face treatments that made her sick and waste away. We wanted her legs to work. We wanted her hair to grow back so people wouldn’t stare at her.

We wanted to give cancer back!

But giving cancer back wasn’t an option for us that year, so we worked hard to navigate cancer treatment and the holidays together. Did you get cancer for Christmas? From our experience, here are five things you can do to make your family’s holiday season as bright as possible.

  • Keep as many holiday traditions as you can. Much loved traditions remind us of better times when the current situation is not the way we would want it.
  • Take cues from your little patient. If they are ready to celebrate, celebrate hard. If they need to rest, accommodate that.
  • Find a balance. Your other children are hurting too, but they need and deserve to have as much normalcy as they can. It is a tough and stressful job to find a balance that allows everyone to have the best holiday possible. But it can be done.
  • Be open and get input. If you can find out what is most important to each family member, no one has to lose the things they love best about the holidays.
  • Find joy wherever you can. Whether in the giving of special gifts or time spent together, there is always joy to be found if you seek it out.

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis during December certainly puts a damper on holiday spirit. But it doesn’t have to end it altogether. Although it may seem impossible, if you are intentional, you and your family can still have a wonderful holiday.

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