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Life Disruption Caused By Cancer During The Holiday Season

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? —Every, every minute?”

-Thornton Wilder

His cancer was growing and his symptoms were progressing alarmingly. As holiday music played in the background, I searched the calendar to see how rapidly his surgery could be scheduled. The young man and his wife first looked relieved when we found a surgical opening in the coming week, but their faces fell as they realized that he would spend December 25th in the hospital. Family plans were to be put on hold that year. The future was uncertain.

It has always seemed to me that “cancer” causes more life disruption during this time of year. The quickened pace of life and the family expectations, particularly when small children are involved, push people to their limits.

On the other hand, it has been my experience that the holidays bring out the best of the people who work in hospitals. This is especially true of those who provide cancer care. While some clinics might slow down a bit, the Cancer Center clinics seem to be open and busy.

During my days working as a hospital nursing assistant and then later in medical school and residency, I always enjoyed being in the hospital on the actual holidays. Maybe it was because everyone was resigned to being at work instead of at home with families, but the interactions with even the crankiest staff members seemed unfailingly positive. Everyone was more cheerful. And, of course, as we went about our duties, we kept on the lookout for leftover treats and plates of cookies.

As cancer care providers, we are privileged to work with patients and families at the most stressful moments in their lives. Cancer can bring incredible focus, just as the holidays can prompt us to remember what is truly important in our lives and in our relationships. Maybe our calling to be “healers” is reawakened most effectively in December.

Happily, my patient recovered from his holiday cancer surgery. Over the following years, we reminisced about the first few days after his cancer diagnosis. It was a Christmas week that he and his family would never forget.

Happy holidays to one and all!

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