I’ve sat down to write this piece about half a dozen times over the past few weeks—hoping to have published it long before now—and have been quite unsuccessful. That means you get whatever I put together in a single take today.
I’m penning this a couple of days before Christmas, and must say that there’s a lot to look forward to this time of year:
To kick it off, we have the challenge of picking out meaningful gifts for the people in our lives who—at my age—pretty much already have everything they could possibly want.
Then there’s the Christmas meal relay, taking us to various locations for giant meals to be eaten at two in the afternoon so that people don’t have to drive in the dark. And, with wine flowing like water, frustration will mount over having too many cooks in the kitchen, each cook’s face awash with the rosy red tell of indulgence. Elbows fly. The potatoes boil over. Someone forgets to make gravy.
The meal itself most assuredly becomes a version of Festivus. Regardless of the religiosity or secularity of your celebration, there will be some form of an airing of grievances. Someone will broach one of the forbidden topics: politics, religion, sex, or how the boomers ruined the housing market, and it’s all downhill from there.
Finally, we have the opening of gifts and the magic—if the children are of a certain age—of Santa and his elves. A really special and time-limited event because once one child in their class learns the truth, the illusion will forever be shattered.
What do you mean by “not real?”
You might’ve noticed how each of these different things includes people, who been the centrepiece of the traditions we undertake over the holidays.
It’s not about gifts. It’s about togetherness.
For a few moments out of a year, we get to share time and space with those we love the most. We get to partake in the stories, rituals, and traditions that endear us to one another. If we’re lucky, we may even get to create new ones.
Which is precisely what makes those things I’m looking forward to so difficult this year.
’tis the season for some grievin’
I’ve found the holidays tough since my mom died in 2016, just a few weeks after Christmas, from advanced colon cancer.
Her, my dad, and I had an opportunity to spend time together fully understanding that it was going to be her last Christmas. I’m grateful we had that time.
That grief persists and—though years have passed—is still something requiring me to make space. If the room for acknowledgement and remembrance isn’t intentionally created, grief will inject itself wherever it can.
I’d be lying if I said that I don’t miss her during the holidays.
So, I allow myself the time to remember; to experience the gamut of emotion.
Cancer isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I remember my mother, but it is part of her story (and mine).
I mainly remember the woman and the qualities that made her so loveable.
…but it’s coloured by the obvious truth here: that if cancer didn’t kill her, we’d be sharing this year’s holidays together, too.
There’s a part of me that finds space to hate that. There’s something to blame for her absence: cancer.
Which leads me to, well, myself.
The last Christmas
In all likelihood, this will be my last Christmas alive.
The emotions this year have been running high, often uncontrollable or coming on without warning.
It could be the Christmas card list, paralyzing upon review as so many friends have died since last year. Striking the names feels like an erasure of the person and I know I’ll be passing along this feeling to others down the line.
It could be the curious approach of a cat, trilling and looking for pets. Heartbreaking to know that one day I just won’t be here and that they can’t understand.
It’s the visualization of the pain and hurt that my death is going to cause for the people I love the most.
It’s thinking about the administrative hell of preparing to die. There’s so much work ahead and I don’t want to leave things a mess.
The most coordination is always required when you’re in the worst position to do it.
It’s knowing that, when my time comes, the world will not take pause. Everyone will have to keep living life, feigning normalcy, because our society doesn’t give people space to grieve and mourn.
It’s a lot of things. Some describable, others abstract, and all of them real.
I’ve found it impossible to put into words what it’s like to know that I’m experiencing many things for the last time.
The finality of it all is just overwhelming, depressing, and anxiety-inducing.
Maybe it’s that I don’t have choice in the matter.
The view ahead
I’ve mentioned before how the meaning of hope changes as things progress with my cancer. It changes still.
Thankfully, hope does remain: we’re optimistic about slowing progression.
It’s just that at this point in my trajectory, slowing progression means extending life by weeks or months.
Even if I woke up cancer-free tomorrow, I would have lasting and devastating damage to my body and mind that would prevent me from being a Regular Human™.
I’m a real boy!
I’m continuing to see progression in my spine.
It’s a shorter list to note the vertebrae that don’t have issues, but at least we have plans for some radiation and ongoing pain management.
Not hyperbole 😬
I finished up some pre-Christmas radiotherapy and will probably have some more in the new year.
We’re dealing with some creep into my lumbar which isn’t targetable through the precision stereotactic radiation.
There’s hope—even probability—that my new chemo regimen is going to be effective, though that won’t be clear until February at the earliest. The fact that I started about two weeks ago means that we just don’t know right now.
Effective meaning: extends life by a non-trivial amount of time.
This stuff takes time, unfortunately. We have to give things a few cycles to see if it’s slowing the cancer down.
Another case of hurry-up-and-wait seasoned with trial and error.
We’ll figure it out.
A thank you
Thank you for the support over the past year and a half.
As the holidays approach, I feel grateful for the love and support that’s been offered throughout. Thank you for the messages, calls, and cards.
My wish is that those reading this have an opportunity to spend time with the people closest and most important to them this holiday season. If you’re not in that position, may you find some joy over the holidays in whatever way suits you best.
Sending love from Kingston,