Christmas is Bittersweet With Metastatic Breast Cancer

I love the Christmas holiday season. There’s nothing more wonderful for me than decorating my home and wrapping presents. I leave all of the decorations up until after the new year so my house stays festive.

Although it’s a most joyful time for me, there’s always that niggling thought that this could be my last Christmas.


The joy is bittersweet for most people diagnosed with metastatic cancer. We are terminal, after all. We are also hugely aware that the members of our metastatic community whom we’ve lost won’t be with their families this year.

Surprisingly, most of us are more concerned with how our loved ones and family will manage after we are gone. Who will decorate and lead the festivities? Do they know where everything goes? Will they just throw out the big plastic Santa?

Who Will Decorate When We’re Gone?

I first heard this question from a friend who told me about a woman she’d met while taking chemotherapy treatments. This woman was describing how she had labeled all of the Christmas decorations with clear instructions on where they were to be used. Since this conversation occurred after my initial diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer, I couldn’t relate. It was my expectation to live for many years after the surgery and treatment — until the cancer came back as stage 4.

Recently, my friend and fellow blogger Ann Silberman posted on Facebook that she, too, was concerned about how her family would celebrate the holidays after she was gone. My suggestion was that she leave notes and tell them she will be watching.

Seriously, though, these are the thoughts most of us grapple with at this time of year, along with the side effects of cancer and treatment that sometimes hinder our ability to participate in all the fun events.

Making Special Memories for My Family

Last Christmas was the first one after I was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I made it spectacular! This Christmas meant just as much. Since I have always made Christmas special, I wonder if my family is thinking about this Christmas as being different. I don’t really want them to have to think about losing me, so it’s a fine balance between keeping everything the same and yet making every holiday a special memory for them.

This year I took my husband and two boys to Miami Beach. It was our first Christmas away from family and friends, but I truly wanted a family vacation, and this was the only time everyone was available to travel. No one had any trouble, though, with the idea of hot weather, palm trees, and ocean breezes in lieu of wrapped gifts.

There is nothing to complain about when you are lying on a beach on Christmas day.

We left the house back home fully decorated, and before we left we’d enjoyed a few visits with friends, so we didn’t lose any of the festive spirit of the holidays. Once in Florida, we got to see alligators, snorkel in Key Largo, and eat all the seafood we wanted. We even got to spend Christmas day at the family home of close friends who had traveled to Florida, too.

I will have to come up with something even more exciting to celebrate next Christmas, since I’m planning on at least one or two more — or three or four …

Survive and Shine,


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