It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN

Only sometimes it’s not. I do love the holidays – especially now that I have kids. I love spending time with family, no matter how dysfunctional they may be. I love cooking; I love the feeling of my house when our Christmas tree is all lit up. But it isn’t always that way. The last two holiday seasons were different – and I have a feeling that this one will have quite a bit of sadness.

It all started about this time, 2 years ago, with a call from my aunt that my cousin was admitted to the hospital with a suspected brain tumor. Frantic calls began, searching for the best care, going through surgery, rehab and fortunately, making it home on December 23rd to spend Christmas with family and her young daughter. Everyone was so thankful that they both had this holiday to remember, but it was not easy. She stressed from her hospital bed about how she was going to get the gifts for her daughter, how would they get the house decorated, would she even feel up to being a part of the usual family traditions. She got through the holiday, but frequently talked about how hard it was and how exhausted she was through the whole process.

Flash forward, after a year of radiation, chemo, yet another surgery and many hospitalizations for seizures and other complications; it was holiday time again. An oncology visit the week before Christmas was not so festive – the tumor had grown and the only option was to attempt another surgery after the New Year. Talk about a punch in the gut. Our tears rolled as we sat in silence absorbing what we had just heard. “I knew it was back,” she told me. “I felt it.” Neither of us said what we knew to be true. This would be her last Christmas with her beautiful 7-year-old daughter.

I can only imagine her thoughts that day and the days that followed. We were not alone. Undoubtedly, other patients got equally bad news that week in the busy oncology practice. She made the most of that holiday by spending every possible minute with her daughter. Yes, she bought gifts, but less than previous years. She knew that what was most important about this time of year was the time she had with family and those she loved.

She passed away a month later. Soon after her daughter said, “I have so many wonderful memories with mommy.” I think that would have made my cousin smile. That was what she wanted to do with her year to live – create happy memories for her daughter. A trip to the beach, movie nights, school plays – she did everything she physically could in that year. And I think she succeeded.

So, this year the holidays may be a little harder. But I will take the lessons I learned from my cousin and enjoy every minute with my boys and not stress over whether I got the “it” toy. I know how lucky I am to be able to share this time with the ones I love and how lucky we are to have our health. I just wish we could learn these lessons without losing someone so special.

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