I had warned that this was coming. A Christmas post, rather than Christmas – although of course Christmas is also coming.
I have been living in Asia for over a decade, so Christmas does not have the same prominence as it did when I lived in Scotland. However, it is still a significant , psychological point in the year. I did not truly realise this until September of last year, when I discovered the dreaded lump. As the fear started to take shape, I was certain that if it was indeed cancer, then I would not live to see Christmas last year. I know that sounds shocking and dramatic, but that is what lodged in my mind. And although I can sit here and now, in the knowledge that although the nasty lump was in fact two tumours with an attempted break out to neighbouring nodes, I am still here, yet I still have this block in my mind about Christmas.
Last year I came back home to Yangon late in November and stayed until mid December when I had to return to Bangkok for chemo 3. As more Christmas decorations appeared in Yangon, I found tears at the back of my eyes when I saw them. Then one evening, outside our gate I heard some music. I had no idea what it was, as the words were in Myanmar but soon it became clear that the tune was “Jingle Bells”. This was in fact the Yangon version of Christmas carolling!! Well everyone thought this was marvellous and went out to listen to the singing at the gate. Everyone except me. I sloped off unseen to the bedroom because the tears were pouring down my cheeks. I cannot adequately explain it, or even understand it but I think it was a complex mix of intense emotion which included relief, fear and the enormity of the cancer diagnosis. No doubt the fact that I was in a physically drained condition following the surgery and first two chemo sessions contributed to that.
The moment passed, and I kept quiet about it, as I was embarrassed about this display of emotion. We returned to Bangkok a few days later and to the next chemo and the anonymity of the big city. And despite the number of sparkly lights, Slade renditions of Christmas hits gone by, Christmas decorations and marketing around the city it didn’t “feel like Christmas”. The groundhog days took care of most of the Christmas period anyway and in no time it was past and it was New Year and chemo 4 on the doorstep.
And that was that. Christmas gone for another year, and I was still there to tell the tale.
So this year I was surprised to feel those tears pricking behind my eyes again when the Christmas signs started to appear. Last week I was heading out for my Saturday evening swim and saw a group of musicians outside a house. Thinking it must be some festival, I passed by – and then suddenly realised that it was the same Myanmar version of Jingle bells again!! It was carol singing time again!
The next evening a group of young carollers called round and sang their carols in our living room. This time I could not slope away and found myself struggling to hide the determined tears. I tried joining in the singing to stop my voice shaking and to distract my thoughts. To no avail. Hubby spotted my trembling bottom lip and it was really difficult to keep it together while they sang the carols.
Now I do want to put this into perspective. Tears are something I may be good at, but I have found that their appearance has been limited since my breast cancer encounter. I didn’t cry when I was diagnosed, apart from a wobble when I came out of the consultation. I didn’t cry when I saw the effects of my mastectomy. I did have to swallow back tears when I headed to surgery – that was fear! However, the tears I shed when the last of my hair was shaved off, when the needle came after the final chemo and when I hear Christmas carols were far in excess of the many upsetting and distressing times the cancer beast has brought me. I don’t pretend to understand it, but this is how it is……
So as we again approach Christmas my emotions seem again to be in a fragile state, but my goodness, physically what a difference a year makes. This time last year I was in such a different place (as my version of the 12 days of Christmas/chemo demonstrates).
I really do have to count my blessings and recognise how much I have to be thankful for. This is my second Christmas since diagnosis – not bad considering I believed I wouldn’t last until Christmas last year – that’s Christmas past I guess. And I can’t help but struggle with the intensity of the emotion on the brink of Christmas present. All because every Christmas future from now on is framed in uncertainty.