Amber Bell and her family love Christmas—from the tree to the traditions and all the twinkling lights.
This year, however, this Springfield mom is undergoing chemotherapy for stage IV colon cancer, and while she wants to enjoy as much holiday fun as she can with her three daughters, ages 11, 9 and 2, it’s physically difficult.
“I’ve had to lower my expectations,” Amber says. “For example, we have a fake tree this year instead of a real tree, because I didn’t have the energy to take the kids to get a real tree, nor did I want to clean up after a real tree. That was a little bit disappointing for them.”
Amber was diagnosed in late July and underwent emergency surgery to remove 12-inches of her colon and an 8-inch tumor from her abdomen. Recovery has been long and slow and chemotherapy has left her with side effects, including nausea and fatigue.
Coping with limitations
Willamette Valley Cancer Institute’s oncology social worker Lynda Godell says it’s normal for patients to struggle emotionally during the holidays and to be frustrated by physical limitations.
“First and foremost, grant yourself the grace to do a little bit less. Say no to activities that are too much for you, allow yourself to rest and have realistic expectations,” Lynda says. “You don’t need to do things the way you’ve always done them. Be open to new possibilities.”
In addition, Lynda encourages patients to be willing to ask for and accept help, even if it’s difficult.
“It’s much easier to give than to receive, but by receiving that help, the one who is giving feels included and a part of your journey.”
Focus on what’s most important
While Amber would like to be able to do more chores and tasks herself, she is thankful for the unconditional support from her husband, Eric, and her family and friends.
“My girlfriends came and wrapped all the presents, so they’re ready to go, and I don’t have to worry about that,” Amber says. “I’ve had to learn to let other people help me and do what needs to be done, so I can spend my time with my family.”
Amber blogs weekly to communicate health updates with friends and family, but her blog has also become a place where she can be real about what living with cancer is like. She celebrates the good news, including her most recent scan, which showed her cancer has stabilized. She ponders things she doesn’t quite understand, and she vents when it all gets to be a little too much.
“Blogging has become therapeutic for me to process my thoughts and to acknowledge and show appreciation for the people who are supporting me and my family,” Amber says. “I think it’s a good depiction of what I’m going through. Sometimes my cancer really gets to me, and other times I’m like, ‘I’ve got this. I can do this.'”
In many respects, cancer has changed Christmas for the Bell family; Amber has had to choose which traditions to hold onto and which ones to let go of until next year. But most importantly, her family has been reminded of what matters most.
“It’s become more about the relationships we have with people, the time we’re spending together and the memories that we’re making,” she says.