This will be my fourth New Year's celebration since my cancer diagnosis back in the spring of 2013. Nearly four years since I heard the news “it’s cancer” from my doctor after a shocking discovery of a lump in my right breast. At the time, I was only 34 years old and had small children, ages 2 and 4. Celebrating was far from my mind. I was gearing up for a full course of treatments that included chemotherapy, radiation, numerous surgeries, and five years of medications. It was a scary and uncertain time for me and my family.
I’m blessed to report that almost four years later, I’m healthy and well, and my children are now almost 6 and 8. Physically, I’m close to being back to my old self. I just marked my 38th birthday, and am looking forward to celebrating the New Year ahead with my family and friends. Of course, as any cancer survivor will tell you, no matter how far away from the diagnosis you get, there will always be that bit of fear and anxiety lingering in the back of your mind. It tends to weaken as time goes by, but it’s always there. And the holidays can be a time when those feelings tend to make a resurgence. But the holidays can also be a time to feel extra thankful for every magical and cherished moment.
Maybe it’s the general mix of nostalgia, stress, and joy that often hit this time of year, but for a cancer survivor, the holidays mean so much more. Because anyone who hears those terrifying words “you have cancer” immediately, or at some point, thinks of all of the future celebrations, birthdays, special events, and of course holidays that they desperately hope they will be around for. For me, having young children, it was Christmas and New Year's that hit me the hardest. Would I be here to see my children open their presents? To see them watch the ball drop on New Year's Eve? To see the magic of the holiday and the possibilities for a New Year shine in their bright eyes?
When I celebrated my first New Year as a cancer survivor back in 2014, I had just finished six weeks of radiation treatment. I was physically and mentally exhausted, and was wearing a wig while I waited for my hair to start growing back. But I remember feeling so grateful, so happy that I was enjoying the holiday with my children and husband, hugging them all tightly as we saw the ball drop and shouted “Happy New Year!” It was special and I sent up prayers of thanks and of hope for many more cherished holidays to come.
Now as I celebrate another holiday season, I find myself in the same stressed out state that I used to be in pre-cancer. So much to do, gifts to buy, cards to send, food to make, parties to attend. But I try to step back and make myself take in just how lucky I am to be here, with my children, family, and friends. I have a new perspective on the holidays and ringing in each New Year. I know how precious they all are and am so happy to be celebrating again.
Rachel Minnick is a breast cancer survivor and Marketing Manager for The Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP), a non-profit organization dedicated to educating patients and the public about clinical research. She herself is enrolled in 2 clinical trials related to improving outcomes for women with breast cancer. Rachel lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with her husband and 2 children. This guest column appears on Diagnosis: Cancer through our partnership with Inspire, an Arlington, Va., company with condition-specific online support communities for over 900,000 patients and caregivers.
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