Holiday Cancer Cheer


There’s no Cocktails that really make it onto my holiday menus since my cancer diagnosis. Those halcyon days of fine wine and creative concoctions are long gone. So the lack of drink kind of makes these dry holiday seasons well…dry. In light of that I thought I might share with you some of my anecdotes about how I handle all the stress and the isolation of cancer and the holidays. I’m taking a bit of a different twist on your usual cancer blog fare.

Perhaps you can take some key points away and infuse your own drinks with some of these interesting ways of handling things that are rather uncomfortable and can be somewhat depressing. I find the holidays carry as much weight as all of the past 12 years of being with my beloved and every stinking holiday season beginning about two weeks before thanksgiving and ending just after New Year’s Eve, when I can finally relax.

After 54 years alive and 1/4 of those with my husband and most of those 12 years with two adolescent growing to teen boys who expected incredibly nice, increasingly costly gifts, here’s some practical as well as some less pedantic, more spiritually-based techniques of handling the cancer holiday blahs.

  1. Learning to deal with bodily functions such as farting in public or knowing every clean bathroom in about a five mile radius from the house. Me: farts in line at the grocery checkout. Clerk: looks at me like this 😑 Me: Looking down, holding out my index finger, as if to scold a dog or a small child, and saying, “bad dog! Oh you know these support animals. I should cut down on his protein shouldn’t I?” Clerk: looks around sees no dog. Rolls eyes and elbows the teenager bagging my beets and ginger and tumeric. Me: Fart again, “bad boy!” looking around embarrassed and hoping silently I’m in range of a clean bathroom. I laugh to myself and muse as to why it has to happen so often at the grocery checkout. I stab the credit card machine with my chip up hoping it’s not declined heaping additional facial redness on top of that brought on by my intestinal eruption embarrassment. This year I am hoping for a few Silent Nights rather than personally sounding like I am playing a one -woman band version of the entire horn section of the college football show at halftime.
  2. Don’t wind up in the hospital. I don’t know if it’s the stress of the holidays or if it’s thinking about the people who haven’t called me or who might call me or who might not call me on the holidays and all the stress that goes along with that and what to say and what they’re going to ask. Perhaps that stress is all just coincidental to becoming ill enough to wind up hospitalized. However, every year this time of year I have been in the hospital for the past four years. I’m hoping that this year the hospital is not in my holiday plans instead of a nice trip elsewhere. I don’t consider the hospital a vacation. Nor that nurses are there to serve my needs and to wait on me hand and foot or to give me facials and massages. Although I wish they would instead of waking me from thin skinned sleep and asking me for my vitals over and over again.
  3. To decorate or not to decorate? Do I have the will to actually put the lights up get a tree haul it home put it up and hope that Craig will be there to help me. And then adorn it with all the decorations that I have collected over the past 12 years for family. I’m not sure that I’m going to do it this year though I did find a very cost effective retailer (Big Lots has 18 feet of white outdoor LED rope lights for $12!). I think I’d rather enjoy the beauty of nature all its own and use the stars as my decorations this year. First it’s a lot cheaper and second it’s a lot more beautiful and I appreciate them all the more every night that I’m out here and it’s not raining.
  4. Getting up before 1 pm to shop for gifts on time and with a bit of meaning for those who will get them. Probably late due to not getting out of the house in time to get to the stores or lack of personal financial resources. Wake up! I yell inside my mind, where no one can hear me but myself. As I reach for my magic rope, one I imagine falls from the ceiling above my bed, generalized bone pain and neuropathy in both arms, I’m prevented from reaching the frayed and knotted jute twisted above me. While the painful tingling in my hands caused by nearly five years of chemical therapies wakes me with a jolt I’ve no problem staying awake.
  5. Lose the guilt. Many days guilty feelings wash over me instead of a restorative shower. I feel guilty for lazing about and wonder if it’s even necessary to feel ashamed. People who count on me know I have morning challenges, or in some cases afternoon challenges. My schedule shifted later and later as we closed in on moving out of our house in San Jose. It’s amazing how much crap people accumulate over 11 years in one home. I realize too that 11 years is the longest span of time I’ve lived in one house. And now I start afresh without the guilt. I have new friends that don’t know me as I was before and therefore don’t have expectations of me as I wants was. They know me now and they like me as I am now. So I intend to drop the guilt this year and also if my friends who live in San Jose or back on the East Coast don’t understand well I suppose they’ll just have to live with that. I won’t live with the guilt anymore that’s for certain.
  6. Listen to more music. Music fills me with joy. I sing many songs I make up on the fly to my cat, Simon. Most of them are lullabies, as he seems to enjoy these most of all. I’m definitely guilty of singing loudly in the car and of course in the house. I also sing in the shower and pretty much everywhere I can. I’ll even sing to the music on the loudspeaker in the grocery store. Hopefully the same clerk who hears me fart does not hear me sing.One of the things that was absent from our lives for about five years while my husband was depressed was music. Music has refilled our house, filled spaces that were left void of sound and reverberates in our ears words and tunes that we both love to listen to. Right now we just listened to that one jimmy our Canadian trio Rush’s Fly by Night and it’s an awesome album. The title song is about leaving the past behind you with life leaving us “no time for hindsight” and that something I also intend to do which is not ditch the music from the past, but…
  7. Leave all of those past things that I can do nothing about behind me. Not making much ado about nothing. That’s something the cancer taught me to do, which is to leave the past where it belongs. In the past. That alleviates a whole lot of guilt (see above number 4) and it also brings me to my next point which is…
  8. Do not hold onto expectations of the future. With cancer you cannot have expectations of the future even if the future is tomorrow. Plans change ljconstantly. My health changes constantly and everything changes constantly around my health. It’s very hard to make plans and keep plans around something that is constantly changing. Life should be like that anyway: a little more spontaneous and a little less planned. But that’s hard to do around the holidays when people want to make plans. Further, when I was forced retirement I really didn’t have to plan my days anymore. I don’t have to live by calendar except to show up at the oncologist and get my chemo and make sure that I get my prescriptions on time. I also have a small business and I do need to ship my items on time but other than that I really don’t have to keep much of a diary. The only real diary I need to keep is a personal diary.
  9. Isolation can be good for writing not for the holidays. I wonder to myself if the reason I don’t hear from people is that they’re wondering if I’m dead or too ill to speak. Or maybe they think I’m in the hospital which I usually am this time of year. Or maybe they don’t want to give excuses for why they haven’t called or called back or texted or texted back. But it’s all OK it really doesn’t bother me all that much because honestly I’ve determined that if he will don’t want to call me I’m not going to pressure them to do so and I’m certainly not going to pressure myself into trying to call them. I don’t get very many cards anymore he used to get quite a lot. But now one or two trickle in maybe a half a dozen for the entire holiday season. Part of this has to do with my husband being depressed for the last five years and part of it has to do with me having cancer for the last five years. His depression comes and goes, stage 4 cancer just comes, and that’s about it.
  10. Live. Just live. And have a peaceful end of this year. I hold out hope. I’ll always have it for myself and for all of you. Go in peace. You deserve it.

11 comments on “Holiday Cancer Cheer”

  1. You. You’re funny. Im totally relating to what you’re saying. It seems its been a shitty journey so far, but really Ive never heard of anyone having a great time with cancer. I think the only way to get through the day is to find the humor in every ridiculous thing that happens. I personally have dropped out of all Xmas activities bc I just cant (I woke up at 11 today!). Ive spent the last month in the house, except for drs so Im actually glad the boys put up the tree bc at least I get to look at that. Im glad you’re out of the hospital this year and hope you have some fun times with family. Merry Christmas!

  2. Dear Ilene,
    Thank you for your honest portrait of this dreadful disease. I hope you have a hospital free year end.

    I finally had to take a long leave from work after fighting MBC (March 2016).

    Sending peace and love my dear friend.

  3. Wise advice .. being vegan I can appreciate farting at the check out and most other places too. I did laugh out loud re hoping the assistant hearing you sing isn’t same one on check out .
    I’m sure we could be related 🙂 sincronised singing and festive farting maybe x

    1. Raven thank you for your response. Sorry about the typos as I decided to try using speech recognition because my neuropathy is so bad right now. I’m near vegan as Craig has become vegetarian however my diet usually consists of pita chips and pomegranates. I don’t have much of an appetite lately but the hormonal changes keep enough meat on my bones. And I try desperately to fight off a sweet tooth which is fierce! That may be the cause of my intestinal issues but who really knows. I think I can synchronize my singing to my gaseous emissions and I am glad you laughed. Cancer humor can be a bit dark, but it’s funnier when you can relate to the experience. And I’ll take another sister any day. We are all sisters in this thing in a way. If I run into someone who has had or had breast cancer it’s so easy to fall into a conversation about it for hours on end, just knowing that someone gets what you’re going through. You know what I mean? 💜 Ilene

      1. I know exactly 🤗 maybe for Christmas Craig could buy you a kite! That’s what Jeff says when there is plenty of “wind” about.
        Glad your staying out of hospital . I share your posts on my Ravens cancer Retreat face book page.
        Always look forward to your posts
        I’m like the bloody Grinch at Christmas hate the tree and decorations saga always leave it to Jeff.
        Then by boxing Day I’m ready to pack them away 🙈🎅
        What are you using for intestinal issues is there anything that helps for you? Xx

        1. You are the best. I had no idea I was being happily bullhorned on Facebook and I thank you for the gift of promoting more awareness of dense breasts and metastatic disease, the gift that gives until you’re dead. As for gas…a wonderful traditional Chinese medicine doctor and Qigong teacher has prescribed ginger and honey tea. Take a piece of peeled fresh ginger and slice it thick as a nickel and put it in spring or other very clean, purified water on the boil and simmer it for an hour to taste and melt in some honey from as local a location as possible – I thank the universes maker the bees haven’t left this disgusting cesspool of an planet for good yet – tablespoon it in to your liking. The combination of ginger and bee pollen seems to do the trick. That and I also get sulfurous burps which this’ll work to help clear out too. As soon as I also can go to the bathroom – and I get rid of my end of the month volcanoes of digested foodstuffs the gas seems to ease up just in time to start the whole damned thing over again. Girl, I am telling you, there’s one reason I might be feeling isolated. It’s not my aluminum free deodorant either.

          That said good old fashioned Tums make a new chewable mint tablet that work wonders when cannot get my ginger tea on. I think gas, like sex, is one of those cancer issues people don’t want to discuss. Yet both are stinking realities for all of us to some degree. The sex problem isn’t as bad as the gas problem for me but perhaps Craig’s drive to maul me is tamped down by the beat I keep while we meet eye to eye in the bedroom, his pale blue eyes water and mine just turn down with embarrassment!

          Jeff sounds funny like Craig is…the kite is a good one!💜

          1. I love the way you write my friend.
            There are a million books about breast cancer but not one about breast cancer and living your life in a real an honest way.
            It’s like having a ccnvosation I hear myself talking back to you.
            I’m liking the ginger and honey idea I’m trying this today!
            Wind forecast in Wales may improve.
            Get yourself over here for a holiday. We are completely free. Free therapies and company too!
            Have a fabulous day my friend keep writing .
            Chat soon x

  4. Hoping your holidays are hospital free. I still feel pressure to be who I used to be. Even though I’ve made some changes that are good for me, it’s still a hard time of year. There are also a lot of easy and happy moments for me and I will try to focus on those. Hope and peace to you!

    1. Kristie I don’t know what’s happened to my original reply to your comment but…regardless…we all to some degree need to seem normal around friends and family so they feel more comfy around a person who is no longer the same. We may as well walk around in sandwich boards, nude underneath the two wood slabs ringing a Salvation Army bell and yelling “The end is here, the end is here!” We symbolizes the Armageddon of normality and the nuking of a quiet holiday at home or loud family packed festivals. It’s not that they don’t mean as much. They certainly do – but terminally ill doesn’t really mean much to those who fear death and can’t even bs their way through a conversation. We really try to make everting very comfortable but our attempts are usually futile resulting in loneliness or depression from the further isolation (I wrote a blog on this topic I think every holiday for four years running now),

      But you’ve got the right idea – focusing on what’s good, defocusing away from what feels badly or I’m forced. On these occasions we must pay particularly keen attention to self care. No one will care about us nearly as much as ourselves. I say skip the gifts send cards instead or just make phone calls. Then take care of yourself by getting away if you can or doing local exploration. I love hiking and visiting cemeteries and looking for local historical sites. I’ve gotten ahold of an excellent book on the local flora and fauna and a night sky atlas now that we can even see the Milky Way from the top deck on the house.

      These are a few of my favorite things!

  5. She comes home to roost! It’s been too long long long! I swear its horrible and ghastly – the chemo gives me the worst gas. Oh my god, I hear Craig vacuuming in the other room
    I may pass out. Wow. Anyway, I feel very strongly now that I’ve had near five years no one without it can truly understand what our uncertain, isolated lives are like. And I think we absolutely do not want any new members to club cancer -it’s not an exclusive group but one of forced inclusion. I get exhausted explaining to people metastatic cancer does not go into remission nor does treatment end – ever.
    I sure am glad to finally hear from you lady, I love your guts!

  6. Ha! I blame farts on other people 😂 I agree with you regarding holidays. They have a different meaning now. For me anyway. The rest of my family-not so much. Hell, everything has a different patina now. Again, not for the rest of the family. I honestly think the only ones who understand are others who have dealt with cancer. I can only imagine how exhausting this is for you. I love you my friend!! As always, #FuckCancer

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