top of page
  • Dani Fontanesi

Christmas and the Juxtaposition of Pre- and Post-Cancer Life

Christmas is finally over. Today is Boxing Day (which isn't celebrated in the U.S.) and Matt and I are sitting in the infusion center waiting for his blood labs to come back. (The infusion center is a room in the cancer center, the outpatient part of the hospital, where patients come to get whatever infusions they need through an IV.) We're surrounded by other bone marrow transplant patients, all wearing masks and hooked up to IV machines, just like Matt.

We come here 3 days a week, usually between 7:30am and 9:00am and leave somewhere between 11:00am and 1:00pm. They draw Matt's blood, send it off to the lab for testing, and then tell us what Matt needs for the day: blood, platelets, hydration, magnesium...

We sit and wait while he gets his infusions, which typically last several hours. We bring books, devices (phones/iPad), drinks, and snacks. Our usual days are MWF, but since yesterday was Christmas, we had to come today (Saturday in the U.S.).

So as we sit here in the infusion center, the day after Christmas, I can't help but think that I'm actually relieved Christmas is finally over. It's the first time in my life that thought has ever crossed my mind. I love Christmas. It's my favorite holiday, my favorite day of the year. Usually I never want it to end, but today is different. It's not because we had a bad Christmas. In fact, our Christmas was everything we could have asked for and more: we stayed out of the hospital, we had Christmas morning pancakes, we opened presents (and got some really nice presents!), we took a drive up the coast (and even stopped to get our annual "Christmas photo" in Santa hats by the beach), and we had a really nice meal with Matt's family.

But I still cried this Christmas.

I cried because I suddenly became acutely aware of the stark juxtaposition between this Christmas and every other Christmas before this. I suddenly had a point of reference between our life now and our life then, and it was painful to accept just how different things are this year. Our lives have been changed and there's no going back. There's no undoing the scars that have been created and the pain that has been suffered. There's no returning to our pre-cancer lives or resuming our carefree days. We are changed now, and reflecting back on Christmases past made me realize that our lives will never be the same going forward.

(Above: Christmas 2014 in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand.)

(Above: December 2012 in Waverley, New Zealand)

(Above: Christmas 2013 in Sydney, Australia.)

That's not to say our lives won't be great -- in fact, I believe our lives will be better -- but our innocence has been lost and that is something we can never get back. Recognizing the obvious difference between Christmas yesterday and every other Christmas we've ever celebrated, brought tears to my eyes. It forced me to bury our innocence, mourn its loss, and accept that we need to learn to move on. Without a roadmap or anyone to guide us, we need to create a new life: a post-cancer life. But we don't yet know how to do that or what that life will look like.

It's impossible to come back from an experience like this -- to wander back from the brink of death (yours or a loved one's) -- and not be changed by it. You can't return to a normal life because there's no "normalness" in life anymore -- not for you. The world around you is the same, but you are different. People who didn't experience it with you could never understand it, and even those who experienced it with you can only understand it to a certain degree. You view the world through a different lens. You're acutely aware of your own mortality and the mortality of those you love, of the brevity of life, and of the gift you've been given of another day to enjoy it. And when you're trudging your way through the marshlands of cancer and all its after-effects, you're equally excited and terrified at the prospect of getting back out into the real world, back to your "normal life".

If you've ever lived overseas or traveled the world for any amount of time, it's similar to the feeling of returning home to your friends and family who have never left your hometown. You're changed but they're still the same. Your old life has gone on without you in your absence, but you've experienced a whole new life. You expect them to be different and they expect you to be the same, and neither is possible.

The same is true for a post-cancer life. I'm confused about what life is supposed to be after this. I don't want to be caught off-guard or flung back out into the real world like spaghetti tossed at a wall. I want to glide gracefully back into it, but with the baggage we carry, I don't know how that's possible. I guess we still have time to figure it out, but we don't even know how much time. It's all so crazy and uncertain.

In any event, I'm happy that we've had our first post-cancer Christmas and that it's over now. It's not the way I would have imagined our first Christmas as husband and wife, but I'm glad we can leave it behind us and know that better Christmases are ahead. I don't know what lies between now and then, but I do know that I'm ready to close out 2015 and start a new year. 2016 will be better. It may not be perfect, but it will be better.

(Below: Some of our favorite Christmas memories.)

(Above: Christmas Day 2013 in Bali, Indonesia.)

(Above: Christmas 2014 in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand.)

(Above: Christmas 2013 in Sydney, Australia.)

(Above: Christmas 2012 in Marlborough, New Zealand.)

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page