Last Christmas was almost my last Christmas. After a fun and festive season of holiday gatherings, performing in a local Christmas musical, and serving as the elf assistant to my brother in his Santa business, I managed to contract a particularly virulent type of community-acquired pneumonia. Most people can shake off pneumonia with some antibiotics and rest, but for someone like me, with a compromised immune system due to eleven years fighting blood cancer, pneumonia can often prove fatal.
The sudden arrival of this illness on December 20 was a straight ticket for me to the Intensive Care Unit at Kaiser where the pneumonia quickly turned into congestive heart failure, and then into sepsis. Through all of the years fighting cancer – the chemo, bone marrow biopsies, endless tests, medications and month-long hospital stays for two stem cell transplants – I never truly thought I might not make it. I tried to stay focused on the fight itself and claim a perfect return to health.
But late in the night last Christmas Eve, I felt the specter of death hovering very near. Although much of my time in the hospital remains blurred out, erased by morphine and other drugs, I had a moment of clarity that night. As my lungs fought to take in each breath, I thanked God for the gift of the past eleven years. I know that every day I’ve lived since my diagnosis of stage four aggressive lymphoma has been blessed to me. Many people I have met along this cancer journey have not lived as long as I have – some leaving behind small children to grow up without their beloved dad or mom. As tears slipped down my face, I told God that I was ready, and though I didn’t want to leave my husband and family behind, I felt that I had lived a joy-filled and productive life for the 53 years I had been given.
And then sometime in the early morning hours of Christmas day, I awoke, alive, and – could it be? – breathing just the smallest bit easier. For the next four days I continued to get a tiny bit better each day and I was able to go home on December 28. It was, for me and my family (and a few of the nurses), a Christmas miracle.
This Christmas I am putting into practice some strategies to step off the holiday treadmill and better support my physical health and emotional well-being. I am opting for a much quieter celebration of family and health and the little baby born in a manger.
I am no longer rushing about trying not to miss out on all of the fun during the holidays. Instead of searching for Christmas in the hustle and bustle of shopping and “elfing” and socializing, I am content to stay home away from exposure to germs during this cold and flu season, scrolling through facebook liking and commenting on my friends’ holiday fun. I’m happy to do my gift shopping online, looking forward to the packages that arrive (sometimes en masse) on my doorstep. I’m blessed to have friends and loved ones come visit me for a cup of cheer and deep conversation, giving them a break during this busy season.
Instead of FOMO, I am experiencing a quieter joy this season – JOMO: the JOY of missing out. Try it! You just might experience the best Christmas ever!