My family is pretty rooted in tradition.
We always spend Christmas Eve at my great-aunt’s house in a tiny little town in northern Minnesota with anywhere from 40-60 people packed tightly into her home. My mom prepped the Thanksgiving turkey with the same recipe that her father taught her. We watch The West Wing every night after dinner during the election seasons. The first weekend of November will always be blocked for deer hunting opening weekend. We grew up going to the same church every Sunday. Friday nights are for high school football.
Tradition and my family go hand-in-hand. I have come to learn tradition provides structure, consistency and belonging. We know who we are because of the traditions we hold most dear.
Cancer looks at tradition and says, “I could care less about your tradition. Grab a seat, get comfortable, and watch the traditions you hold onto so tightly be ripped away.” Cancer doesn’t care about your traditions.
Traditions are cast aside when chemotherapy protocols require long hospital stays and suppressed immune systems do not allow for the annual Black Friday Shopping trips during cold and flu season. Surgeries and blood transfusions dictate schedules. Depleted hemoglobin levels keep sick kids inside during the hot days of summer when friends are visiting the local waterpark.
Cancer runs much of the world of those who are affected. But, my friends, cancer does not get the final word. Cancer does not dictate our lives. We do.
Here is the best part about traditions; we make them up. Some are passed down and some organically grow over time but never forget; we are the creators of these moments we hold so dear. Cancer no doubt messes with tradition, but it does not get the final word.
While I was sick, I spent Thanksgiving in the hospital with my mom. She made me bowtie noodles floating in a pool of butter for dinner (the only food I ate at the time) and she spilt a Thanksgiving pizza with Mike, our favorite personal care attendant. We laughed at the residents for being nervous during rounds, played pranks on nurses and lamented that Mike had to work on Thanksgiving but gave thanks that he was there with us. My mom and I created a new tradition in the very last place either of us wanted to be.
As we approach this holiday season where traditions are more apparent, may cancer not get the final word. May we find room in our hearts to acknowledge traditions can change for a time and evolve into something new as we navigate the impact childhood cancer has on our lives.
If cancer has taken one tradition from you, adapt it or create a new one. If cancer has taken someone from you, keep memories of them present in your traditions, even if they change in that person’s absence. Traditions are the ways we recall memories of happy times, and that’s one thing cancer can’t take from us.
Written by Katrina Siebels
Katrina was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma when she was 17 years old. Now nearly 10 years past her cancer diagnosis date, she works as a Gift Officer at Children’s Cancer Research Fund. To read more from Katrina, read her pieces Photos During Chemo – A Survivor’s Perspective, Do You Want a Warm Blanket and Nine Years Later.