All I Want For Christmas Is... To Be Cancer-Free

Photo: Courtesy of Ariane Thornton-Mason.
Ahhhh, Christmas, the most wonderful time of year! For me, the festive season normally begins with desk decorating: I adorn my computer with naff tinsel in lurid colours, trashy baubles and a miniature tree. Then it’s off to Oxford Street for a mad dash around the shops, like some crazed Maenad buying any piece of tat I can get my hands on. Last year I succeeded in buying my mum a life-sized, bronze, squirrel-shaped nutcracker – who in their right fucking mind does this?!

The Maenad in me lives on through party season, where I proceed to get as drunk as I possibly can at as many different venues across London, downing champers, cheap shots and any free alcohol that stands in the way of me and Christmas-party burnout. By the end of it all I'm a frazzled mess, so I jump on an overcrowded train to Somerset, eating a Pret Christmas sandwich in a desperate bid to feel festive. The fun doesn’t stop there, though. Like an overexcited kid who gets too many presents from Santa and can't behave, I plough into my toys. The only problem is, my toys are a bottle of whisky and Santa is my dad. My normal Christmas experience is food, booze, hangovers, cheer and presents. It's bloody fun.

This year, Christmas will be different. This year I was dealt the cancer card. A stage four Hodgkins Lymphoma cancer card. I have had 24 sessions of chemotherapy over the last six months, and I finally finished my treatment on 7th December 2016. Three weeks before Christmas. I now have six weeks to wait before my final scan to find out if I’ve gone into remission or not.

I’m in the underworld: a dark, dank place full of evil elves.

Forget Winter Wonderland, I'm in Christmas limbo land. A much scarier, fear inducing, panic laden land than the aforementioned Hyde Park one. On the outside I am full of Christmas cheer and excitement; on the inside I am an anxious mess. I am scared, probably the most scared I’ve felt throughout this whole process. I’m in the underworld: a dark, dank place full of evil elves and coal-bearing Claus’, a place where festive fun is null.

Part of me wants Christmas this year to be perfect. I am desperate for things to be “normal”. I’ve made from scratch a wreath of foraged holly, yew, berries and pheasant feathers. Not only is this the most middle-class thing I’ve ever done, it's also the stupidest. Thanks to six months of chemo bashing my body and blood cells, I've been left with no immune system whatsoever. If I get an infection there is a chance I could get sepsis and die, very quickly. This may sound dramatic, but this is my reality. So, rooting around in a hedgerow, where I’ve seen my dogs shit on many a walk, picking poisonous berries, cutting my hands on holly and scavenging pheasant roadkill for feathers (this is actually a real-life thing I did, guys), is not very wise when I have no infection-fighting cells in my body. But I want to be normal. I want to pretend I didn't have cancer this year. Or months of chemo. And for some reason, making twee Christmas decorations is my new "normal".
Photo: Courtesy of Ariane Thornton-Mason.
Having no immune system when everyone around me has the lurgy makes socialising at Christmas and having any form of fun pretty damn hard. As all my friends don their newest velvet dresses and sequin finery, waltzing around town from party to party without a care in the world, I’m stuck at home, in my pyjamas and slippers, contemplating Christmases gone by. I used to be the most sociable, the most fun, the biggest party animal at any Christmas bash. How did this happen? And why me? Why me? Like a ghost of Christmas past, that question comes back to haunt me.
Photo: Courtesy of Ariane Thornton-Mason.
All things considered, I’m not terribly excited about Christmas this year. Like I have done for all of 2016, I am just willing time to speed up. Buying presents seems pretty pointless, a feeling which has spread throughout my family. Relatives are donating to various cancer charities instead and as I walk aimlessly around town on the hunt for a piece of crap I have to stop and ask myself, what’s it all about? What is the point in all this? Give me all the presents in the world, nothing will ever compare to getting the all-clear I’m so desperately after in January. In the words of Mariah: “All I want for Christmas is... to be cancer-free.”

If someone had told me this time last year, three weeks before Christmas, that I’d have been diagnosed and treated for cancer, I’d have believed them as much as I believe in Santa. Maybe that's the point: that no one knows what card they're going to be dealt, so Christmas has to be about getting stuck into living. It has to be about revelling in each other, overindulging in everything that makes us happy and celebrating our existence in the present moment. With that in mind, I’ve bought myself a new little black dress. I will put on some false eyelashes (mine have pretty much fallen out). I will paint my lips red and my nails gold. I will allow myself a glass of champagne. I will have a good time. And I urge you all to do the same, please; eat all the turkey, ham, cheese, stuffing, mince pies and chocolate; drink all the booze; buy all the Christmas tat; drunkenly dance at all the Christmas parties; tell your family and friends that you love them, dearly. Life is too short not to. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a very healthy 2017.

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