December 26th is not just the day after Christmas.

December 26th has always been a day I have loved. Growing up, it was fun because it was an opportunity to properly absorb what you had been given on Christmas day without the hustle of having to get out the door to a family party. You could sort through all the different Chapstick flavors from your stocking, plan what new outfit to wear to school on January 2nd, and tinker with whatever trending electronic device you’d begged for that year. Into my late teens and early twenties, it was a completely obligation-free day of relaxation – this was probably the height of my love for the 26thday of December. I’d wake whenever I damn-well pleased and enjoy an alcoholic eggnog with my mom while we went through the line-up of which movies we would watch that day. In adulthood and early parenthood, December 26thwas a relief and a chance to take a deep breath and reflect on the magic you worked so hard to create for weeks on end; a day to move slowly and to eat leftovers and sneak in a nap alongside the kids.

Two years ago on December 26th, just around the time I would have been hoping to take said nap, my phone rang. There had been a family brunch earlier that morning, but Calum seemed so off to me that, instead of enjoying coffee cake and egg soufflé, I took him to the doctor and demanded blood work  after my previous request for it, only days earlier, had been denied. This was quite literally the last thing on earth I wanted to be doing that day, but I was far too sick with worry to appreciate any of the things I love about December 26th. When my phone rang, which was merely two hours after Calum had his blood taken, I was in shock. I thought it would at least take another day to get the results so, when we were told to take him immediately to the local children’s hospital emergency room due to his white blood cell count and dangerously low hemoglobin, the most salient and overwhelming rush of panic and angst rushed through me. This was the news I anticipated, yet so very desperately hoped not to hear. I wanted to crumble right then and there, but I ran down the stairs to get my husband. We gathered a few items, packed up our son and left for the hospital, both of us completely shaken and fighting tears the entire way, so as not to scare Calum, who was exhausted and burning up with another fever in the back seat.

At the time, I had no way of knowing what his blood results would mean. I had no experience to that point of reading blood work of someone with Leukemia but somehow, intuitively, I knew. I knew he had cancer. Thinking back to that day, sitting in a holding room for hours and then, later that night in our hospital room we’d been admitted to, I was almost delirious. I could not wrap my head around the reality of this situation. Was it actually even happening? Just hours before we’d gotten that ominous phone call, our lives were damn near perfect. We had two beautiful kids, a boy and a girl, a house we adore, and a marriage blessed by mutual, real love. In a split second, our lives were unrecognizable.  We were scared to fucking death and experiencing an indescribable pain; the pain of what was happening before our eyes and the pain of the unknown. That first night was horrific. Calum’s tiny veins were almost impossible to access but he desperately needed an IV for a blood transfusion and, while he was so weak and in true agony, he was poked with needles in almost every place you can imagine. I just wanted to be able to stop it from happening. December 26th, 2016 was, by far, the worst day of my life.

Today marks our second “Cancerversary”. Cancerversary is a widely known term amongst cancer patients and their families, but people measure it differently. Some people, like me, mark their Cancerversary as the day of diagnosis, while others mark it on the day they finish treatment, or some people wait all the way until they are considered officially cured – usually that means being five years cancer-free after treatment has ended. Maybe I use the day of diagnosis as our Cancerversary because we haven’t hit the other milestones yet (Calum still has more than a year of treatment to go and, though in remission, will not be cured for another five years after that) or maybe I use today as our Cancerversary because it is December 26th.

December 26thhas now taken on a whole new meaning for me, and it’s one that I will never forget. December 26this now a day of all-consuming gratitude. December 26th, from two years back and every year forward, is the most important reminder of how earth-shatteringly lucky I am to have Calum here with us still and on his road to being cured. It’s a reminder that there is not a single other thing in life that actually matters to me outside of my family being whole. It’s a reminder that the scariest thing that might happen to you may also end up serving as your most poignant lesson to appreciate what you have and to know that much, much brighter days are ahead of you. It might take a lot of time, but happiness is still available and abundant.

We didn’t do anything special today. Mike and I acknowledged what it was in private, but there wasn’t anything ceremonious to commemorate it. Our policy is generally to keep Calum as unaffected by what happened to him as possible, so we tend to downplay it until he has the desire and awareness to question it all more deeply. Today was, quite simply, a day to enjoy the sheer beauty of an ordinary day with our kids. I marveled at Calum and all of the average, yet mesmerizing, things a five-year-old does. I was quite easily moved to tears on several occasions while watching him ride his bike, and eat three pieces of pizza for dinner, and tell me how to spell m-i-l-k, and proclaim without context that many snakes live in the desert, and kiss me goodnight on the lips, and whisper into my ear that he wants waffles for breakfast. December 26this still a day I love.

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This was two days after being admitted. I couldn’t bring myself to take any photos originally, but now I wish I had. I just didn’t know I’d ever want to remember it.

2 thoughts on “December 26th is not just the day after Christmas.

  1. Caitlin, thank you for this incredible piece. Wow. Your words and story show every person who knows and loves you how to savor our daily blessings and all of their beauty. Thank you for always letting us into your brave and loving heart, we learn SO much from the heavy cross you so lovingly carry. I admire you so much! I love you!!

    For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
    —Psalm 36:9

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You and Mike do have so much heart and courage ; and somehow have managed to embody such hope and spirit and share these blessings. I truly marvel you have also been able to keep your sense of humor— and Cupid skills!

    Liked by 1 person

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