I was going to write this as a facebook status on Christmas Eve but there were far too many words.
When people ask what my fondest Christmas memory is I always reply with the same one. I’ve had a few Christmases under my belt and my fondest memory is not about what gift I received or the gifts I gave. It’s not a ski trip or Christmas in an exotic location. My fondest memory is bittersweet. It makes me happy and sad to think about it. It’s about being with family, the power of perspective, and always having a sense of humor.
My Auntie Lu was diagnosed with cancer a number of years ago. I don’t remember all the details. I was busy with my life at the time and things get fuzzy. My family isn’t the greatest about being upfront with things either. Many details I found out after the fact. I didn’t know how deadly it was. I didn’t know at the time that she was given a couple of years to live. What I did know was it wasn’t good but she was taking it like a champ. She had a bucket list of things she wanted to do. She drove her Harley until the doctor said no more driving. She rode with my Uncle unil the doctor said no more riding. She went on a cruise to Alaska with her sisters, bringing bags of fluids to keep her healthy just so she could enjoy the trip.
Auntie Lu was always known for her Christmas sweaters, pins, and funky socks. She must have had a different Christmas sweater for every day of December and then some. And why wouldn’t she. Her birthday was Christmas Eve. And one year, during her treatment, she was scheduled for a round of Chemo on December 24. What would you do if you were scheduled for Chemo on your birthday on Christmas Eve?
You’d throw a party to celebrate it right? That’s what most people do isn’t it? No?
But sure as hell she did throw a party. Right at her Oncology office during her Chemo treatment. It’s true. No lie. (PS. Why are these pictures not on Facebook oh family of mine?) She asked the office if she could have her family come in and sit with her during the treatment since, after all, it was her birthday…and Christmas Eve. And that is what we did. I don’t remember how many, ten or more, descended upon that poor Oncology office with donuts, pastries, coffee, and hot chocolate in hand to celebrate my Aunt’s birthday…on Christmas Eve…in an Oncology office.
Do you remember those old Verizon commercials? The one with the guy walking around with hundreds of people say “That’s my network”? That was what she told people as we paraded through the office. What a sight we must have been! And there we sat with her as she explained the different meds she was being given and why they were in black IV bags. The nurses telling us what a joy she is to have in the office and that she lifts everyone’s spirits when she is in there. We sat and talked and shared stories of Christmases past. We laughed and ate and maybe offended some other patients. It was like sitting around the living room enjoying each others company. We all smiled. Not a single tear was shed in that room. Unless you count the laughter ones. My Uncle Bob passed out pastries and coffee to nurses, patients and their families using a medical cart to pedal his wares. It was, to say the least, the best present ever.
It wasn’t until we left that I reflected on the irony of the situation. Happiness and Chemo treatments don’t usually go hand in hand. Some people would lament the fact that they had to have treatment…on their birthday…on Christmas Eve. But not my aunt. I don’t know if she ever truly lamented her diagnosis. If she did, I never saw it. Or heard about it. She decided to make the most out of her time. She decided to live with cancer on her terms. No one else’s.
After my Aunt died I flew back to Chicago to be with my family and as we sat around her house making final arrangements and talking with each other her oncologist called the house to check on my Uncle and talk to the family. He told my family that one of the reasons she lived as long as she did and with such quality was because of her attitude. So many of his patients treated their diagnosis as a death sentence that they became so sick so fast. He wishes all of his patients had half the positive attitude that she had. Regardless of prognosis she lived life on her terms. She chose to smile, to celebrate, to enjoy what she had around her. She fought her cancer with traditional medicine, attitude, a zest for life, and a sense of humor.
Before I flew home my uncle wanted my sister and I to go through her closest and take any of her things that we wanted. It felt weird at first until I say her Christmas Sweaters. My sister and I each took one, promising to wear them on Christmas Eve to celebrate her birthday and her outlook on life. And while the baby bump is preventing me from wearing it this year, it doesn’t stop me from thinking of her and honoring her zest for life.
She inspires me every day to be a better person, to make the most of any situation, to change my perspective, and to always laugh.
Miss you every day Auntie Lu!