By Contributing Mama Diane LeBleu
This was going to be the year I finally broke down and wrote the holiday newsletter. I have been making fun of family and friends on their efforts in this area for years now – It was time to put up or shut up. It’s like voting – you shouldn’t complain about a candidate if you won’t even bother to vote.
Plus, as an aspiring writer, I can use all the practice a captive audience will afford. I even sponsored a workshop dedicated to writing this annual tome as part of my ‘Writing Mamas Salon of Austin’ monthly gatherings at our local wine bar. However, in my inexperience in producing these letters of good will and cheer – what is the etiquette about communicating my breast cancer diagnosis?
I just found the news I had been dreading and almost expecting. My twin sister lived through a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation at the young age of 33 almost seven years ago; my aunt died two years ago from breast cancer. This was not exactly a surprise but still not how I was expecting to be spending my new year – in the hospital, undergoing a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction followed, perhaps, by chemo.
How does one communicate all this grim news in a Christmas card – usually so full of boasts and brags about how wonderful one’s life is and how brilliant one’s offspring have been demonstrating with their academic and athletic achievements throughout the year?
I am strong in faith and rich in friends and family who are willing and able to do anything possible to help me and my family through this time. I have prayers going out on my behalf literally around the world. I know I will get through this – I just do. My biggest fear? What keeps me up at night? Not will I die – we are all the walking dead. But I know where I’m headed – it is asking for help and letting people help me. I’m not good at either one.
I’m one of these women – I think there are a few of us out here – who thinks I can do anything without help. I somehow manage with my super-duper efficient problem solving and time management skills to squeeze 25 hours out of every day and never miss a beat. Within 4 weeks, however, I’ll be flat on my back, tits up and will be forced to accept the offers from help I normally dismiss with an “Oh, thanks, I really appreciate it, but we’ll be fine.”
Part of me wants to wait another year on the newsletter – let it be a great announcement in a red and green and pink banner about my triumphant emergence from a grim trial of breast cancer and all it’s terrible repercussions but a bigger part of me (the needy part) wants to share my news with my extended network of friends and family across the country. I can use all the prayers and stories of encouragement I can get right now.
Despite my steely exterior and quick jokes about wearing my twin’s wig (finally, something you CAN actually wear twice!), I am in a constant flux of dread and denial, peace and passion for all the blessings in my life. The waiting is the worst – I know once January rolls around and I am finally on the path of treatment and recovery, I’ll have a brand new set of emotions and concerns.
In truth, I love to receive the holiday cards from loved ones I have not heard from since the last round of annual newsletters. It helps me to feel connected and engaged with the families I love but am separated from by many miles and time zones. I relish in the photos of children that grow so quickly and events – some mundane and some fantastic – that make up each of our lives.
I would hope to hear all the news from these folks – the good and the bad (nobody’s life could be all that great, right? Right?), otherwise, what is the point of sharing? It becomes family propaganda as opposed to friends in fellowship, and how can you serve and comfort and pray for those whose lives are perfect and free from peril? There is an Arabian proverb that states: A friend is one to whom one can pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keeping what is worth keeping, and, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away. I like the idea of that – and for those not on Facebook, the Christmas letter is the only way to stay in touch throughout the year.
So this year I will send out my first newsletter. I will write about the highs (like my recent trip to Budapest) and the very big low (my diagnosis of breast cancer). And I plan to close the letter like this:
“I don’t know exactly what 2009 has in store for us but I will take comfort in what Paul wrote to the Romans in Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
I hope that by the time I sit down to write the 2nd annual installment of ‘The LeBleu Review’, I will have a little more clarity of what the purpose of my experience with this disease is. Until then, best wishes to your family for a wonderful Christmas and blessed New Year.”