It’s beginning to look a lot like…

by Karen on December 9, 2013

Two-year-old boy and five-year-old girl snuggling with puppy

Christmas puppy. ©Karen Gooding 1995

So, here we are two weeks before Christmas, and we’ve barely started shopping.

I’d like to blame it on Thanksgiving being a bit later this year. But, that would be distorting the truth a little. OK, distorting the truth a lot, because in reality, there has been only one year when we finished all of our holiday shopping before December 23.

In fact, we finished it all in one weekend.

It was mid-December 1995, and our children were five and two. The only thing they had asked Santa for was a puppy, and Santa hadn’t quite made a decision on that one.

I’d recently had minor surgery to remove a lump from my breast for biopsy. I was feeling just fine, and with two young children hyped with holiday cheer, I didn’t have much time to worry either. In fact, I was helping out with crafts in my daughter’s kindergarten class when someone popped in to tell me my husband had called. The message: Meet him at home.

The teacher and the other volunteers cracked a few jokes about the house being empty, and I laughed along with them. But I knew why Jim was calling. Biopsy results.

Sure enough, when my surgeon – a good friend – had been unable to reach me, he’d asked Jim to track me down. He wanted to stop by to talk to us. A house call, we joked nervously.

We sat in the living room. (We never sit in the living room.) And, our friend told us, as gently as he could, what by then we already knew. Cancer. I was 34, and I had breast cancer.

The doctor laid out my options. I could have surgery the following week or after Christmas. We talked about it for a good while, but deep down, I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted the cancer out. As soon as possible.

So, surgery scheduled, we spent an excruciating day worrying, planning and sharing the news with our family and closest friends – all while trying to maintain a façade of normalcy for the kids.

Then we got to work. We made a list, we checked it twice, and we hit the mall. We shopped like we’ve never shopped before. We bought gifts for family, for friends and for the kids. By midday, a cashier had fielded a call from our credit card company – apparently unusual activity on our card had sounded an alarm.

We brought everything home, and we wrapped and wrapped. We finished decorating. And then, a couple of days later, I checked into the hospital.

There are parts of that Christmas season I don’t remember. (Yay, drugs!) But the memories I do have are good ones. I remember slipping into church, wearing my husband’s soft denim shirt to hide the drain in my chest, to watch my daughter as an angel in the Christmas pageant. I remember a mailbox stuffed with holiday cards and get well cards. I remember friends dropping by with food and flowers and good wishes. I remember inviting family over for Christmas Eve dinner – a tradition I was determined to keep, even if someone else did most of the cooking and I served everything on paper plates.

And I remember Christmas morning when Santa came through with plenty of presents – and a puppy, too.

There would be chemotherapy and more surgery and other challenges in the weeks and months and years ahead. But that Christmas day was pure joy.

So, here I am, 18 years later, with fresh worries, different worries, big and small. But I’m healthy, my husband is healthy, our kids are healthy – even our dog is healthy. So when anxiety creeps in, I try to remember that beautiful, bittersweet Christmas. Joy.



Mary Webb Marsteller December 9, 2013 at 9:16 pm

You are an inspiration beyond words. I so enjoy your blog. I miss our friendship, god has blessed your friends with you.

Karen December 13, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Thank you, Mary! I miss you, too. I think a girls’ reunion is in order this year. Way overdue!

Mary Craig Brown December 10, 2013 at 6:40 am

Merry Christmas to you and your special family Karen. How well I remember that Christmas with you . I was right there standing in that K room with you decorating Christmas crafts with the girls. Love to you all during this wonderful season. God is so good!!!!!

Karen December 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Thank you, Mary Craig! And thank you for all the times you were there for me (and especially for Elizabeth) during that crazy Christmas. Miss you so much. Love to you and your sweet family!

Elaine Key December 10, 2013 at 10:58 am

This story makes me cry, but, my tears are from joy and gratefulness. I have thanked God many times through the years for blessing us with your presence in our lives. This world needs you, your family and friends certainly need you, so, Merry Christmas to you. You are a beautiful light that I believe will “keep on shining.”!!!!!!!

Karen December 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm

I thank God for YOU, Elaine! Merry Christmas!

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