The Cancer Ghost of Christmas Past

This is my first Advent season as a confirmed Catholic. So what is it all about? Well, I’m not sure what it is all about yet. I’m new. There is purple involved, and a wreath.

The brief basics are that Advent is a season that happens during four weeks before Christmas. The focus is both on Christ’s historical and future “coming”. Advent means “coming”. It’s a bit like Lent Lite.

Some folks do readings each day during the season, or pray special prayers. One fun thing about Catholicism – there are endless activities and prayers and devotions one can choose to take part in, or not.

Today was my 6 month check in with my Oncologist – which was actually almost 9 mo. because I dread them and they cost beaucoup clams. I was pretty preoccupied with the appointment all day. When I go in, the lab draws blood and I get thoroughly checked out. The big focus for me is on my tumor marker results. There are several markers for cancer, and basically those are all rolled up into one number called your tumor marker. If the number keeps dropping, as has blessedly happened thus far….we’re golden. If the number begins to rise, then it could be an indication there is something malignant happening inside.

Odd thing about cancer – often you can’t feel it and have no idea that you have it. And no idea that you don’t. There is waiting involved. And sometimes the spectre of cancer comes in to haunt and oppress a survivor. What if it comes back? Can I survive it again? What will my family do if I die? It doesn’t end cleanly. No definite resolution.

As soon as I realize I’m being haunted, I can take steps to fight against this spiritual type of cancer. What I do is try to shift the focus to gratitude instead of worry. I change the questions from what if I die to what if this is my last day. What if I hadn’t lived to see this day? What if this is the last time I talk to this person? This person is alive and I’m alive. It feels good to concentrate on being alive…being inside this body, breathing this air, holding this dog on the couch next to my husband. At the very least, this distracts me from pointless fear. At the very best, it’s life-affirming and brings me into blissful moments of being present to the miracles we are surrounded by. So that’s a pretty impressive payoff.

Advent happens during a dark time of the year. We can turn our focus from the dark, short days to the coming light instead. We can look forward to Christmas, and be grateful for the ways that our life has already been blessed. Cancer happens, but it puts the focus on life in the same way that shadow emphasizes the light.