NPR logo The Energy To Keep Holiday Traditions Alive

The Energy To Keep Holiday Traditions Alive

It's all about the angels. Anne's Angels.

Following her breast cancer diagnosis, they were by her side during treatment time. They are with her now at Christmastime, as she celebrates her latest clean mammogram. Tamoxifen is a constant in her life, too.

But it's those angels who give my friend and colleague, Anne Thompson, the energy to keep the traditions alive this holiday season.


One of my favorite holiday traditions is decorating the Christmas tree. I take all day. I curse the lights, fuss over the garland, and spend hours unwrapping each ornament and reliving the memories they represent. There's a Santa climbing the Eiffel Tower from a trip with my godson Liam. The ornaments he gave me representing what he says are my three favorite food groups: cheese, chocolate and wine. There are shells and starfish from Cape Cod, replicas of Fenway Park and Notre Dame's golden dome, hand blown glass bells and icicles from Germany, kangaroos and koala bears in Santa caps from a recent trip to Australia. It is a wonderful melange of the gorgeous and kitschy.

But there was no ornament representing cancer. At least, I didn't think so until I unwrapped an angel.

All the angels on my tree represent the human ones who've helped me on this journey, none more so than my family.

I am the oldest of four. My two brothers Bill and Jim and my sister Mary are my best friends. Who else would shave their head when I went bald? Bill did. Divvy up all my worldly possessions in 5 minutes and then dissolve in laughter? Mary did. Spoil me rotten, doing everything from accompanying me to nuclear medicine waiting room that we dubbed "the fourth ring of hell" to covering my hairless scalp after surgery? Jim did. Our mother Betty, decided she would be the best mother in the world to get me through treatment. Of course, that didn't stop her from leaving the chemo room as I slept through a Taxol drip and checking out a sale at Bloomingdale's! We love to tease her about that.

I also have a guardian angel here on earth, my cousin Danny. He was and is my inspiration to conquer this disease. Danny was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus that metasticized to his liver in May 2004. The doctors said there wasn't much they could do for him. They prescribed a chemo regimen. Danny did the chemo and made it to Christmas. He then got into a clinical trial and made it to Christmas 2005, 2006, 2007 and now 2008. He endured 80 treatments. I just had 8. He is my hero. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Danny guided me every step of the way, helping me deal with the physical changes and the emotional weight of cancer.... and most of all, making me laugh.

When we were little, my siblings and I would spend hours just staring at Danny waiting for him to make a funny face. Now we wait to see him walk through the door of my mother's house on Christmas Eve. Seeing Danny is always the best present of all.

Happy holidays! May you be surrounded by love, happiness and good health in the New Year.