Monday, December 27, 2010

Cancer: The ultimate white elephant

It was a very merry Christmas in our house this year.  A three-year-old is SUPER fun at when it comes to the whole Santa thing, and we worked it as hard as we could.  We went to the children's Christmas eve service at the Unitarian Fellowship, and Lori did an awesome job presiding over the events.  Azalea got to be a star in an impromptu pageant (she really was a star, as opposed to a bale of hay or a mouse).  We sang several Christmas carols and dutifully held our candles during "Silent Night".  At home we had homemade broccoli soup and Ian's best bread ever.  We put out cookies and carrots for Santa, and, after the girls went to bed, played the highest-scoring game of Scrabble in which I've ever participated.  In the morning the first item on Azalea's agenda was to check and see if Santa ate the cookies and carrots ( budding scientist, collecting evidence that Santa exists?), but she quickly moved on to discover her gift.  Santa left her a big yellow dumptruck, as per her request, and a teddy bear as big as Eleanor, for Eleanor.  Santa had stuffed their joint stocking (lame, I know...homemade stockings are in the works for both girls) with kids' Clif bars and Earth-ball chocolates; our Santa is a bit of a hippy, I guess.  An exciting array of gifts were exchanged among our little family, and indeed among much of our extended family.  It was a lovely couple of days, and I am most grateful for the gift of my glorious family, on all sides.

My friend Justin recently sent me a link to a 3-minute talk about a different kind of gift.  It's not a gift that you'd find under any Christmas tree, and since no one really wants it perhaps it's the ultimate "white elephant", but I can see how it might have some gift-like qualities.  Stacey Kramer survived a brain tumor and speaks about the positive effects it has had on her life, as if it were a thoughtful gift.  Maybe when I get to the point where I'm looking BACK on this experience and not TOWARD this continued experience I will be better positioned to see it as a gift.  The gifts given by loved ones as a result of cancer are certainly pleasant, but they don't outweigh the looming possibility of, oh I don't know, dying so young that my youngest daughter doesn't remember me.  I can hear you gasping, saying "don't SAY that!", but this is where I go sometimes (only rarely...and don't all cancer patients of all ages have these thoughts?  Isn't that what makes cancer so frightening, that it snatches seemingly healthy individuals right out of life?).  I suppose that since Ms. Kramer is on the survivor side of cancer she has a broader vision of the impact of the gifts that cancer brings:  of course the outpouring of love and support help the cancer patient feel better, of course they don't outweigh the real negative impacts of cancer, but maybe the primary value of these gifts is the distraction from dark thoughts and the constant reminder of one's place in the world.

I've got a great place in this world.  It is a gift to occupy it.  Oh, and I am totally digging the foot rubs.                  


  1. If cancer couldn't be beaten, they'd call it can't-cer. Lucky for you, you don't have can't-cer, but just regular ol' cancer. Imagine how hard it would be to beat a disease with a name as ominous as can't-cer...nearly impossible, I would imagine.

    And think of the nightmare that blogging a disease that contains an apostrophe and a hyphen would be? Worse then chemotherapy itself, we would have to assume.

  2. When you get to the survivor sure to look back on this post and reflect :)

    I think the Santa that visits your house must be from Boulder, CO! He would fit in great out here ;)

  3. Heather, I am a friend of Jennifer and Rich Early and Martha's Godmother. I was diagnosed with breast cancer last February. Finished chemo in Sept and now doing Herceptin every 3 weeks until June- so guess I am kind of "on the other side." I have been following your blog-laughing and crying. I love your strength, wit and perspective on this all. This post was the best. I am thinking that this breast cancer is a white elephant gift for sure! You are in my prayers. Sue Nielsen

  4. Heather, I think it is totally reasonable for you to not be completely positive about this at all times. It does suck. It is totally unfair. You might like another perspective from a cancer survivor - the book "Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America" by Barbara Ehrenreich takes the perspective that cancer is not a gift and that you should be allowed to feel crappy about it when you need to. I much prefer your blog, personally. I think you are an emotional genius. Mallary

  5. Being the person holding the cancer is a tough job. (Duh) Not only do you have to deal with your own scary thoughts, but also you have to know that others are holding in their scary thoughts as well. I agree that one day you may look back and say, "wow, "that" was a surprising/interesting/positive thing that came from my cancer diagnosis and treatment." But I am guessing what "that" was will never be worth the cancer. I am all for positive thinking and trying to find the bright side, but hon, let's face it - this cancer sucks. If I had a magic wand, I would wave it and make your cancer disappear. If it was not strong enough to do that kind of magic, I would use my magic wand to extract the cancer from you and transfer it to me - not because I want to have cancer, but because it sucks so bad that you have it. Sometimes I try to think philosophically about all this, but there is no wisdom, no understanding, no faith tradition, no god, or no explanation that can ever put this in a perspective I can appreciate. What I am holding on to is being with you and Ian and the girls and hoping that showing up, all I have to offer right now, is helping you is some small way. You know . . .Lori