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Shielding at Christmas will be lonely... but I believe and hope in the future

17th Dec 2020

Pat always hosts Christmas for the whole family. But with the vaccine in sight, she's made the decision to stay apart until the new year.

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A few of my 33 family members who shared Christmas 2019 with me

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The message of Christmas is love, joy, peace and hope. All of these have featured in my last four Christmases.

Leading up to Christmas 2016, I was told that I probably had terminal lung cancer, which made me think it would be my last Christmas… Then on 22nd December, I was given the news that it could be blood cancer, which was possibly treatable.

JOY and HOPE in abundance!

I was 75 years old, very fit and active for my age. I was involved in many groups, including the church, Rotary, girl-guiding and played the clarinet in two bands. I share a house with a friend, and we have three dogs to walk – both are agility competitors!

As a large family, we have always spent Christmas day together – my mum used to cook. Then I took over, hosting anything from 12 to 22 people in our home. That year, despite the diagnosis, which I openly spoke about, we had a great family Christmas.

Classical Hodgkin lymphoma was diagnosed, and I began the very rigorous chemo in January 2017. I had been on immune-suppressant drugs, due to auto-immune hepatitis for several years and these had to stop. Consequently, my liver struggled with the chemo, so it had to be halted in May – two-thirds of the way through treatment. I was devastated.

I had had many stays in hospital, including a spell in intensive care, 23 blood transfusions, and bleeding from my stomach, which had to be stapled. I lost all my hair, dropped to under seven stone, and didn’t eat any solid food for four months.

Now, it felt everyone was giving up… but I wasn’t!!

I remembered Christmas and its message of hope, and the love I was shown from family and friends. So, I had to stay positive and fight for them as well as myself.

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5 months after stopping treatment, my first venture out beyond home territory!

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I was sent home at the beginning of July. My goal was to have another family Christmas. I set daily goals to walk a little more and try to eat more. This helped greatly. By September, I was eating a little solid food, taking very short walks, and seeing family and friends again.

I made it to Christmas, and, with the usual help from my family, I cooked Christmas dinner for 19 people.

One of the highlights was really tucking into my first full meal for nearly a year – what joy to celebrate with family again!

A year after being diagnosed, I was told that I was in remission. Christmas of 2018 was fairly quiet and unremarkable, but then came 2019, when we had a huge celebration! My niece and family, including her three grandchildren, came over from the USA.

In total, 33 of us wanted to be together… just a few too many for my bungalow. Luckily, my nephew came to the rescue with his large, open-plan house.

Cooking for so many people was a real challenge, and so I prepared two large turkeys and took them over – ALL home cooked. The 33 of us sat down together for a very memorable, wonderfully happy Christmas dinner! That was a Christmas never to be forgotten!

Now, we arrive at Christmas 2020

From our largest ever Christmas gathering to the smallest. As I’m back on immune-suppressant drugs, I have been virtually shielding since March. I haven’t been a bubble with anyone else. As someone said, “you had a practice when you were having chemo!”.

So, we have decided as a family that it is safest to spend Christmas apart. There will be just the two of us (and the dogs). It will be so strange. I’m already missing all the church activities, carol singing and playing the clarinet, parties with Rotary and guiding friends.

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I'll be spending a lot of time with these two this Christmas!

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Love, joy, peace and hope

We shall still celebrate the love of friends and family, the joy of still being relatively healthy, and hope that we’ll be vaccinated soon. This, along with many others, bringing comfort and peace for 2021.

Living through life-threatening cancer offers the opportunity to celebrate, just like Christmas does. So, stay positive, give thanks for the people who love and care for you. Above all, believe and hope in the future.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas.

Dawn, support line worker

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