The holidays are here – the perfect combination of colder weather, increased stress, and overdone school parties. Nothing like adding a little cancer treatment to the most wonderful time of the year, right? This year, though, the holidays are shaping up to be different. For the first 36 years, they had been the typical combination of pumpkins, turkeys, mistletoe, and Seven Fishes Christmas Eve dinner. Sure, we had some variance (the South Florida Seven Fishes may be non-traditional, but they were darn good), but each year followed the Norman Rockwell outline to some extent — except for 2012.
Last year was the best and worst of everything the holidays could be. Take out half a lung for Halloween? Why not? It’s not like losing 25 percent lung capacity interfered with my distance running. Enema for a colon exam on the day before Thanksgiving? Um, sure. That is nothing compared to colostomy surgery the following week. Or the beat-up feeling through all of December, cumulating with the port placement right after New Year’s. The 2012 holidays, from a physical standpoint, were a pretty lousy string of “Can you top this?” medical procedures.
It was also the best the year of holidays, too. Jen and I had both our families converge on Indian Rocks Beach for Thanksgiving; our four parents, five siblings/spouses, one set of “in-law” parents, one grandparent, and six kiddies running around. Christmastime featured neighbors bringing meals and decorating the house and a bayside holiday boat parade. Friends sent so many presents for our kids, we had to save some of them for Josie’s birthday - there was no more room under and around the tree. My sister-in-law busted out the “Best of Kelli’s Kitchen” for Christmas Eve (and Thanksgiving); we’re trying to get her over here this year to cater us on the East Coast! New Year’s brought friends down from New York and a sunset view of the Gulf of Mexico. Everything the holidays should be came together in 2012, despite (or maybe because of) the circumstances.
So, one year later, I can look back on what made the holidays so special last year — a season that certainly could have been my last. Without being cliché and dropping the “living each moment like it’s your last” spiel on everyone, the focus on making the season special is really what should be the norm. Not sales or wrapping or fitting in every holiday party possible; it’s time with children and family and friends that count, doing seasonal events but not being a slave to them. Last year’s final two months weren’t the best because we attended all of the items on the holiday list — it was special because we got to do any of them at all.
As this holiday season kicks into full swing, I’m thankful for the dozen PD-1 doses that continue to produce a postitive response. I am thankful for the medical teams from Broward General, Moffitt, and Holy Cross, who care for and treat all cancer patients (and me, in particular!). I am thankful for the researchers who dedicate their careers – and in many cases, their lives – to making the eradication of melanoma a reality.
I’m thankful for those who are pulling for me and my recovery – thankful for family and friends and friends of friends; thankful for those who hear about me or read this blog and send thoughts, prayers, and best wishes. I am thankful for the good in humanity – for the cousin of a random follower from Texas who was annoyed when Holy Cross took forever to read my scans. For the random person who signed up for Team T.J. in Tybee Island just because he wanted to run a 5k, and ended up offering his home to us when we visited. Stories like that (and those are only two, of many) add an extra layer of incentive – I may never be able to pay them back, but I am damn sure going to stick around to pay it forward.
I’m thankful for my parents, who would and have dropped everything to be there for us. For Jen’s parents, who continue to be instrumental to helping our family function day-to-day. For our brothers and their families, who have made this battle theirs, too. For aunts, uncles, and cousins, who have done so much and wish they could do more. For our friends, near and far, who support us and make life as normal as possible. This road is infinitely more difficult without your involvement in our lives.
I am thankful that after this infusion is over, Jen and I will have lunch someplace here in Fort Lauderdale, overlooking the ocean or on the Intracoastal. I am thankful this weekend that we can host friends for the Florida State-Florida bowl… er, game. Most of all, I am thankful that the Sharpes will wake up in their own house for Turkey Day, knowing the best gifts are already on the table – the time spent in New Jersey last weekend and in Florida this weekend with the ones we love.
T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »