For as long as I can remember, I have had some level of deep sadness with the ending of Christmas and the bringing in of the New Year. For my family, the “holidays” begin at Halloween and basically go to January 1, with the climax being Christmas, followed by New Year’s Day. On January 1, you begin to realize that it’s actually over and there is no other major holiday for months, at least the kind where you get out of school. As an adult, these feelings were only perpetuated by the fact that I became an elementary teacher, where my calendar was constantly driven by cultural holidays and breaks.
Even as a girl, I remember having a sense of sadness hearing my parents talk about loved ones who had passed and how things were so different than when they were kids. As Christmas Eve turned to New Year’s Eve in a matter of days, it felt empty. The build up seemed so long, for what was only a couple of days of magic. I have memories of Auld Lang Syne making my chest well up, even as child. It all just seemed so fleeting. With the dropping of the Times Square ball each year came feelings of dread. Back to school. Back to work. Back to normal life.
However, this has all changed in my survivorship. Since cancer, I choose to live all my days differently. I live in a different state of mind. Cancer brings you face to face with mortality, death, and time. For many of us it’s the first time in our lives that we have truly sat with those things-not just knowing it as fact but really taking it in and allowing it to shape our lives. Something that a lot of people never do and if they do, they are much older. Once I began to digest my mortality, it changed my mindset toward every single thing. I no longer look at holidays or the holiday season with the same weight and importance. I still love them, and Christmas is STILL my favorite. BUT I live with much more intention and purpose now. Every day is Christmas because for me it’s a state of mind that I choose. The New Year now brings hope and excitement. I no longer get sad when the ball drops. Instead, I get excited about the next 365 days of new opportunity and growth. BUT this isn’t something that just happens. And for me, it takes a bit of work.
My therapist and I are working on mindfulness and this is why; He explained that for those of us who have experienced a traumatic life event like cancer, we can experience depression about the past and anxiety when we think about the future. Anyone else feel this way? When I think about my life before cancer, I loved it. Sure, I had experienced my share of heartache like anyone else and life wasn’t perfect, but it was good. I was healthy, I liked what I saw in the mirror, I wasn’t in and out of hospitals, I had extra money, I felt great, I loved my job-life was good. I can look back on it and quickly get depressed that my life looks so drastically different now and all out of my control. On the flip side of that, when I look to the future, I can get extremely anxious. Many of my friends have told that I should consider taking something to stop me from feeling this way, like looking for the best marijuana strain for anxiety and this is something that I have been thinking about. But I’m not sure how it will affect my health, especially after having cancer. It may even make me more anxious in case it creates different problems. Will my one kidney that I have left continue to work? How long will I have to go in and out for stent changes? Will I end up on dialysis? If I have a recurrence, what will be my treatment options since I have mid-stage CKD now? Will I ever be a mom? Will I have enough money for retirement? And so on and so forth.
It’s perfectly normal after cancer to have these feelings of depression and anxiety. However, once we acknowledge them, we get to CHOOSE what to do with them. My therapist is working with me on being present. Being in the moment. And it makes sense because it’s all we are guaranteed. Mindfulness helps me to acknowledge those feelings of lament and anxiety but then choose to be fully present in the here and now. This allows me to breathe, to be free, and most of all to be content. Mindfulness allows me to look at 2019 and set goals but fully put my energy and thoughts into today. It gives me control in the chaos and helps me thrive in present.
Wherever you find yourself today-whether you’re experiencing sadness and grief of the past or you’re looking at the next twelve months feeling anxious of the unknown, or some mixture of both-I challenge you to see your survivorship through the lens of mindfulness and lean into the present.
Holly Lawson is a cervical cancer survivor and Community Engagement Liaison for Cervivor. She resides in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with her partner Claude and their furbaby Luna. Read her story here.