By Kat Heckenbach
In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.
I was diagnosed with cancer in October of 2004, which meant my treatment lasted straight through the month of December. Chemo for Christmas was not something I looked forward to. I prayed every day that Christmas would not be ruined by my illness and treatment. With two small children, and a need for hope, I wanted desperately to keep the magic alive.
The doctors were very aggressive because I was only thirty-four years old and in an early stage. The chemo didn't knock my hair out, but it made me sick as a dog. The radiation zapped all my energy. At 5'9" I actually felt puny. Weight loss and exhaustion left me weak and barely able to walk across the house. In the past, I'd carried the Christmas tree into the house, but that year I could barely manage the ornaments and had to delegate most of the decorating to my mom and kids.
The outdoor Christmas lights went up around my neighborhood, and my husband, Jeff, asked if I'd like to go out and see them.
"Not if I can't see all of them," I said. I wanted to go on our traditional family Christmas walks at night, but how could I when I couldn't even make it to the end of the driveway to get the mail? I wanted to drive around the surrounding neighborhoods, but how could I when riding in the car caused motion sickness? The thought of sitting in front of the house, staring at the same blinking string of lights across the street, roused the snarly head of depression.
"I know how you can see all of them," Jeff said, and darted to the phone to call his parents. "Mom, Dad... do you still have Grandpa's wheelchair?"
Night after night, Jeff loaded me into the wheelchair, covered me in thick blankets, and pushed me -- thump, thump, over the threshold -- out the front door.
My two-year-old daughter, bundled in her little pink jacket, snuggled under the blankets with me, her warmth calming my shivering bones. My son, four years old and much bigger than his sister, walked next to us and held my hand or helped his daddy push.
And just like that, wrapped in the love of my husband and two kids, I rode around my neighborhood.
The Christmas lights were more amazing than they had ever been before -- than any lights had ever been before! Colorful, white, twinkling and bright, they sparkled of promise and joy... hope and healing. My spirit lifted higher than I thought possible because of those lights, and because of the love that allowed me to see them all.
Chemo took away my cancer, and it didn't take away my Christmas.