Holidays, Cancer and Hope


©Brenda Coffee. All rights reserved.

Over the years I’ve had my fair share of difficult holidays, like my first Christmas as a young married, expectantly waiting for family and friends to crowd around my dining room table which, in another life, had been a cable spool. You know, those huge wooden spools wrapped with reams and reams of thick, heavy telephone cables? My new mother-in-law, who couldn’t be there, wanted me to photograph my table setting before anyone sat down to dinner. Mind you, I was already behind the socially acceptable table setting curve because it’s nearly impossible to make room for 10 people around a wooden spool with a hole in the middle, especially when no one knows there’s a hole in the middle because the table is covered with a sheet. Forgive me… I digress… The disaster wasn’t with the dining table but the copious amount of laundry detergent I’d placed in the dishwasher. Who knew laundry detergent would behave so differently from dishwashing powder? Who knew I’d just triggered a laundry detergent tsunami that threatened to envelop the entire apartment building?

Five minutes before our efficiency apartment filled with holiday guests, the dishwasher began to belch bubbles. At first just a few bubbles spilled gently over the top, like a glass, overflowing with champagne. In a matter of seconds, however, it had morphed into something that seemingly had an endless life of its own, burying me and my tiny kitchen in bubbles. Bubbles spewed vociferously through the kitchen, past the dining table, toward the sliding glass door. An I Love Lucy calamity with no signs of stopping. “Ding, Dong!”

On the other end of the spectrum, the holidays sometimes remind me of my late husband’s three-day chemo marathons. For the duration of each chemo, he was hospitalized while doctors literally kept him unconscious in order to make chemotherapy easier on him. While Philip “slept,” I kept track of chemos, meds and the times he was supposed to receive them. We usually had a private room—the other bed was for me—although I rarely got more than an hour, here or there, of sleep. I remember standing in the dark, by the head of his hospital bed, the television on low, as Dick Clark counted down the remaining seconds to a shiny New Year with the promise of all things possible. As the ball dropped in Times Square, the crowd cheered, couples kissed, and Philip’s chemo pump announced it was time for a new bag of Cisplatin. “Be-deep, Be-deep” competed with the words to Auld Lang Syne as I stood silently, isolated and disconnected from the rest of the world, wondering what the New Year would bring. Over twenty years later, that memory is still with me.

The holidays are hard for people who are looking for hope,
wondering if the New Year will bring answers to their prayers, if they’ll even be here next year, or if they’ll reconcile with estranged family and friends. Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries can be difficult, even for healthy people, especially if a particular date reminds us of the loss of a family member or perhaps the end of a marriage.

Perhaps we need to make a New Year’s resolution: Regardless of our circumstance, whenever fear invades our thoughts—notice I’m saying “our” because I need this suggestion as well—we must stop ourselves from going there. If you’re wearing a yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet, or a pink breast cancer bracelet, snap it against your wrist as a reminder to stop those negative thoughts. Negativity feeds on itself and before we know it, we’re mired in hopelessness instead of hopefulness.

Hope is not just a four-letter word. Hope is a very real and powerful thing. It begins like the bubbles from my dishwasher but eventually, can take over our dreams and our hearts. Hope is the belief that nothing is for certain. Hope puts ideas into motion, educates children and frees people from the shackles of illness and poverty. Hope enables us to visualize new things on the horizon and miracles yet to be created. What would we be without hope? Every time we surrender our hope, we stop living and believing in life, and as soon as we stop believing, we lose more than our hope. We lose a part of who we can become.

Hope is intangible but at the same time, you can almost reach out and touch it! I pray you wrap yourselves in blankets of hope this holiday season. Here’s a toast to hope and survivorship:Grab life with both hands and don’t let go! Do it intentionally and thoughtfully for it will never come this way again. Here’s wishing all of us a healthy New Year.