Hard Times Helped Me Appreciate the Holidays: I Was Diagnosed with Cancer

Read the inspirational story of one woman who was diagnosed with cancer right before Christmas

Jennifer Clements and her fammily

“I was diagnosed with cancer at Christmas.” —Jennifer Clements, 38, Zephyrhills, FL

On December 22, 2006, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. My doctors scheduled surgery for Dec. 27th. At any other time, I would have curled up in a ball, but as a mom with only three days until Christmas, it was important that the holiday be as normal as possible for my three young children. The night of my diagnosis, after everyone was asleep, I wrote myself a letter listing all my fears, and cried until I had nothing left—it was the only time I allowed myself to do that. 

Not knowing if this would be my last Christmas, all I wanted was to savor the holiday traditions that were so meaningful to us. We took the time to appreciate the lights, sights and sounds of the holiday—the music playing, the beautiful decorations. Usually, putting up our tree, the kids would hang the ornaments faster than I could take them out of the box. That year, we talked about the stories and history behind each ornament. And where we would normally spend the day driving to make an appearance at both sides of our family, everyone came together to celebrate at my grandmother’s house. In spite of what lay ahead, it was one of the best Christmases we ever spent.

Now, after a lumpectomy, chemo, radiation and a year of drug treatment to help prevent recurrence, I’m cancer-free and enjoying every second. Christmas is very much the same—looking at the lights, baking cookies—though it means so much more to me now, and we generally spend it at home, just the five of us. The year of my diagnosis, we tried so hard to make things seem normal—now that they really are, it’s such a blessing. For me the holidays have always been about family, and those few hours with my husband and children are very precious.