Christmas and Cancer

The day before Thanksgiving, I was not in my kitchen making pumpkin pies. I was in the hospital being wheeled back to the operating room to have half my thyroid removed.

Cancer is a scary word under any circumstances, but thyroid cancer is probably the best kind to have. I was hopeful I’d be back to normal within a couple days (yes, I’m a little delusional). As the road to recovery has been longer than anticipated, and there is still the concern that the cancer may have spread, I’ve revised my expectations now and am hoping to be back to normal within a couple months.

Right now I’m waiting anxiously on the results of a biopsy. But no matter how the test comes back, let’s just say my Christmas season is turning out—a bit different this year.

And I kind of like that.

Because I’ve been surprised to discover this: while cancer is (obviously) not so great for my health, it’s been great for my Christmas.

Let me explain.

Burn the List

I’m at the hospital for another appointment, and the nurse is polite and chatty. She wraps a bracelet around my wrist—“I bet you’re getting used to this!”

“Unfortunately, yes—I never thought I would be!”

Then: “So are you ready for the holidays?”

That’s the standard question of December small talk, and I’ve heard it from receptionists, nurses, doctors. It’s hard for me to know how to answer. When I’m in a bad mood, I feel like snapping, “No, I’m obviously not ready for the holidays. I’m too busy with appointments like this one!”

In a better mood, I recognize they are just being friendly, and to the nurse on this occasion, I answer, “I’m taking a different approach to the holidays this year because of my health.”

I’ve noticed that a lot of people, and probably women especially, approach the holidays like a to-do list, like something to get ready for. First there is the list of projects to complete and events to attend. Then there is the list of gifts to purchase. And the list of ingredients to buy for any food you’re making.

Wow, we thought we were busy already—now Christmas is just making everything more stressful.

This year I get to play the cancer card, which is giving me the freedom to burn the list. And I’m realizing how okay everything still is. I don’t need to roll out homemade cookies. I don’t need to do any Christmas crafts. I don’t need to attend lots of Christmas parties. I don’t need to buy our kids a lot of toys they don’t need.

And the thing is—you don’t either. We each really do have the freedom to burn the list and to say no.

Now, if you enjoy something, if your family loves it, if it feeds soul and brings you joy, by all means, go ahead and do it and have fun! Wear that ugly sweater to the Christmas party. Make a big mess frosting cookies with your kids. Do whatever you love.

But if you don’t love it, don’t feel obligated. Christmas is not a marathon—“Are you ready? I’m not either. Sigh. So tired.” Christmas is a celebration. Burn the list.

The world will keep turning whether or not you bake your own pies, contribute cookies to that event, make your own ornaments, show up to that party. You might actually find that you are enjoying Christmas a lot more by doing less.

Parent Faithfully

When it comes to parenting, I’ve found that Christmas can be like a dangerous science experiment. You combine the wrong ingredients, and the whole thing explodes.

Ingredients: Young child who is going over some behavioral and developmental bumps. Less routine than normal. More sugar than normal. Later bedtimes. Higher expectations. More excitement. Presents.

We expect our children at Christmastime to be the sweet little cherubs we imagine took the good tidings to the shepherds. Or at least to be like children in a Christmas commercial, in perfectly coordinating outfits, smiling out the window while snowflakes drift to the ground.

Instead we’re like—“Don’t tip over the tree!” And our kids are like—“He has three presents under the tree and I only have two! Why don’t we have Christmas lights outside like our neighbors? Our house is boring!”

Burning the list and setting our expectations lower gives us the freedom to parent our children faithfully through this season. Is everyone going to behave perfectly on Christmas Eve? Probably not, so just prepare for that now.

Celebrating Christmas with young children is just messy. We can fight that and resent that, or we can embrace it and find opportunities to snuggle with them, talk with them, take life slowly together.

This is what I’m learning this Christmas season that I’m not feeling well—my kids don’t need a mommy who can do all the things and go all the places. They need a mommy who speaks truth to them and loves them unconditionally. They are really okay with the fact that I didn’t go with them to the Christmas tree farm. They can snuggle in my lap and tell me all about it when they get back.

Praise Jesus

I’m sorry that subtitle is so cliché, but really, what else is there to say? This Christmas season, at the same time as I’m shedding projects and expectations like a caterpillar sheds its old skin, I am reaching desperately for Jesus.

When our pastor talks about how the focus of this advent week is peace, I am leaning forward grabbing onto every word because oh, how I need peace right now with these medical unknowns.

When a song like “He Who Is Mighty” (Sovereign Grace Music) or “God With Us” (All Sons & Daughters) comes on the radio, I am turning it up and trying not to cry through the chorus because oh, how I need that truth flowing through me.

“You’ve come
To bring peace
To be love
To be nearer to us …

“You’ve come
To take sin
To bear shame
And to conquer the grave…

“Oh Emmanuel
God with us.”

“Let It Snow”? Not so much! There is nothing wrong with secular Christmas music, hear me on this, but when you are suffering, you don’t need reindeer and chestnuts. You need Jesus. You need Christmas songs that go straight from the manger to our deliverance from sin.

He came to earth. What does that mean in your life? Make a list—this is the kind of Christmas list that sets us free! What does Jesus’s coming mean to you? How does it change your life?

To me it means this:

His presence surrounds me.

I have peace.

I am set free from anxiety, delivered from shame.

I am deeply loved.

This year I am studying the Book of Romans with Bible Study Fellowship. (By the way, if you are looking for an in-depth non-denominational Bible study, look them up. I love the accountability of a few minutes of homework a day, and let me tell you, I am getting to know the Book of Romans. I had a dream about the Book of Romans. I love the Book of Romans.)

Anyway, we are in chapter 8 this week, and I’m like, All these promises are true only because Jesus came!

Why did He come? “…By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us….”

Because Jesus came, I am not condemned! I stand before Him righteous! I have died to everything I used to be enslaved to! You won’t find that on a Hallmark card, but wow, is that powerful.

That’s what I need when I have cancer. That’s what I need every Christmas. That’s what you need. Burn the list. Shed the stress. Love your children. Lean in to Jesus.


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