After we found out that I would be able to come to Jacksonville for proton therapy, the initial celebration gave way to grumpiness on my part as I realised that we would be away for the holidays. I am someone who likes my Christmas the same every single year. We go downstairs at the same time together, open presents, have smoked salmon and champagne for breakfast at the same time, continue opening presents, get dressed into as many of the new clothes that we can physically wear on our bodies at one time, eat the same thing for lunch at the same time, enter a food coma, play the same cards game at the same time, watch a new Christmas DVD and finally go to sleep (at the same time). It is never boring for me, and if it is boring for any other member of my family in attendance I don’t care. Because that is how the Semikin household does it.
So you can see that in accepting me for proton therapy the centre ever so rudely slightly ruined my Christmas plans for this year. Which was playing on my mind a little, because I love Christmas. It is the one day a year when we all make time in our busy lives to be together, and part of the reason I love our Christmas tradition so much is precisely that – it is our tradition. So much changes in our lives that it is magical to have one day seemingly frozen in time; the years we have gained, as first myself and then my brother started university and moved out, fade away and I feel like a little kid again, giddy with uncontainable excitement. And each year as I look around the room whilst we eat Christmas dinner, my hat from the crackers flopping into my eyes, I am filled with a warm and full feeling which does not come from the ridiculous amount of saturated fats I have eaten, but from being around those that I love. They are those who you may bicker with and even feel like you want to strangle at times, but that love you for you and always will.
Christmas day is important to me for these reasons and so, especially after the year we have had, I felt disheartened to learn the day would be very different this year. However over the last couple of days, my feelings have changed and the natural order of things has been restored: I am again looking forward to Christmas…
My mum and I were lucky enough to be invited by two beautiful people, that we spent the best part of a day with in the pool when we here last time, to their Thanksgiving dinner. This invitation was overwhelming to us; it was so immensely kind of these two people to open their arms and share an important holiday with us, that would for themselves be, no doubt, full of their own family traditions. And such an amazingly kind offer encouraged warm thoughts and excitement on our parts as we, on Wednesday morning, discussed what foods we could bring to the table and what our first fully fledged all American thanksgiving would be like.
And it turned out to be fantastic. From the moment we knocked on the door we felt welcomed into their home, greeted by all the family and friends that had gathered to spend Thanksgiving together. We were shown around the house and its impressive shoe and clothes storage facilities, courtesy of “pops”, and then we sat down to eat. And oh my did we eat..
I have never in my life seen so much food for such a reasonably sized group of people! There was roast turkey, ribs, mashed potatoes, three types of casserole, two types of stuffing, spinach gratin, cauliflower cheese, vegetables and gravy, and it was all delicious (I may not eat meat but I have it on very good authority that the meat was excellent).
The real piece de resistance however was the desserts table.. Oh. My. God. My heaven would literally be me rolling around on that table and eating all the stuff on it, plus maybe a few Cadbury chocolate bars, forever. I had never really tried pumpkin properly – I had tried it once in ravioli and it was really gross, but never in desserts. There was pumpkin cake and pumpkin fudge, which was probably one of the most tasty things I have ever had. After seeing that cooking it requires a sugar thermometer I am determined to buy one, no matter the cost. My entire student loan for the year when I return to uni can be blown on it for all I care – no benefit from any amount of education can outdo that taste of pumpkin fudge.
And we continued to eat (or I continued to stuff my face with pumpkin fudge) and talk, the conversation flowing effortlessly between this group of people, most of which had been complete strangers to me only a few hours ago. But any observer would have been completely oblivious to this, such was the warmth and welcome we received from these immensely kind people.
I began to tire and so we bid a farewell to our hosts, armed full of a share of the leftovers. We drove home, feeling full and merry, reiterating to each other over and over what a lovely day it had been. In a place many thousands of miles away from our home, we felt as though we had been welcomed into a community as keen on supporting us through the coming weeks as they were on sharing memories and traditions of their own. Although our own family and friends are so far away we felt less isolated and alone, and we are immeasurably grateful for this.
Not only that, but sharing Thanksgiving with this group injected a generous dose of festivity into my veins, a dose that resulted in my mum receiving a beautiful and angelic rendition of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas that would bring tears to the eyes of even the coldest of souls. Back at our apartment that night I felt excited for Christmas, just as I would have done if I were at home, and a sense of normality began to seep inwards, ever so slowly.
Thanksgiving showed me that it is not where you are or how much money you spend, but it is the people that you are with on these special days that is important. Yes, it is lovely giving and receiving presents, lavishly decorating your home and upholding traditions, but the one thing that is irreplaceable, that can make or break your Christmas, is those you choose to surround yourself with. And right now I am made up about my Christmas because I am lucky enough to be spending it with my mum and my dad and brother, who are flying out in a few weeks for the holidays.
In true American spirit – I am basically American now that I have been here for a couple of weeks -this thanksgiving has reminded me that I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for my family and that my parents are able to not only provide for me, but that we are lucky enough to be in the position for my brother and dad to come to spend the holidays with us. My family have got me through this, and I truly know that I would not be lucky enough to be in this mental state had they not been here for me throughout this journey. I am thankful for my health. I know that I spend a lot of time in pain and that there are still a lot of issues I am working through as a result of this operation; I admit that I feel in many ways this operation has taken my life away and I worry that it will never be back to how it was, but ultimately this operation saved my life before this ugly disease had the time to take it away completely and I am thankful for that. I am thankful for having free healthcare and for being given the opportunity to come here to Jacksonville for proton therapy. I am thankful that I am so unbelievably lucky to have such an amazing medical team around me; from my skilled surgical team and the nurses who took care of me when I couldn’t fend for myself, to my doctors who continue to give me invaluable advice and reassure me when I am scared. As well as my medical team for support, I am lucky to have such an amazing set of friends and I am thankful for this.
And finally this Thanksgiving has served as a gentle reminder that people are inherently good. Throughout this process I have been blessed with kindness and compassion, and this Thanksgiving was an extension of the good will my family and I have received throughout this struggle, from people who have been determined to selflessly do good by us. And I am thankful for this too.