Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cancer and Christmas memories

Christmas for many, is not the happiest of holidays, whatever the reason. It can be full of stress, maybe due to expectations unfulfilled, family/friends dissension, too much commercialism and so on. For me I want Christmas to be a warm and fun filled time but the many years of my own dysfunctional divorced family of long ago must bring back memories that worry me. Even after we had started our own family, I found Christmas difficult.

Moving to Saudi Arabia in 1991 changed all that. Our 17 Christmases in Saudi were so much easier~~at least for me. We still had all the trimmings of Christmas with lights, a plastic tree with decorations but the crass commercialization was not there.  The most memorable Christmases of all were those spent camping in the Rub al Khali desert, also often called the Empty Quarter. None of us will ever forget those times; usually with 4 families including all the kids we would head out in a caravan for the long drive south. We would pitch a temporary camp just a few hours north of the big desert and early the next morning, the excitement would begin, as we let air out of our tires to head right into the desert. Finding the perfect campsite was always a big point of discussion often by radio as we spread out through the massive dunes. Once there, we would set up our encampment which would be home base for the next few days.

Our last big family trip to the Rub was in 2005/6 and it may be the most memorable. For one thing, it was the last time expatriates were allowed to enter the desert~~this seemingly due to the tension on the Yemen border. There was never a clear answer but we were blessed to have been able to camp that year. We were stopped by the desert police just before our entry point but they just wanted to take down our license plate numbers and we were free to go. We had departed Dhahran very early on Boxing Day; our family of 5, Dean and Marie French and their two boys, Wayne and Anne Smith and their two boys, and Lorne and Linda Stefan and their son and daughter. The Smiths were the only newcomers and for all of us old hat Rub campers it was special to introduce another family to the wonders of the Rub. Though we did not know it at the time, for our wonderful friend, Linda Stefan, this would be her last camping trip. Linda sported her bald head just as mine is now. Linda was doing chemo for her metasticized breast cancer, yet she did not let it stop her from from entering into all our desert adventures. She had a lot of hip pain but still searched for arrowheads, played games and showed her strength through her indomitable spirit. It was a magical time as we ranged across the desert, swooped down the huge dunes on sand boards or even in our vehicles, always a heart stopper for me. We found countless arrowheads and other ancient artifacts, ate amazing meals accompanied by excellent homemade wine. Our evenings always meant a big fire but if you stepped away from the light of the fire, the array of stars was amazing. The Rub is one of the few places left in the world where you are completely away from all noise and light from civilization.

And so it was that we returned to Canada in December of 2008. Dick had managed to get 3 extensions past the mandatory retirement age but finally we had to leave. In retrospect, it was a crazy time to come home; it was the coldest and snowiest winter in decades for Vancouver and Christmas was just OK as I started the reverse culture shock of re-entry.

Now it is 2012 and I am so looking forward to Christmas. For the past two days I have been running a worrisome fever with some accompanying aches and pains. Basically the help line doctor at the cancer agency suggested I tough it out and that seems to be working as the fever is down almost to normal and I am feeling better. Our old friends the Trayners arrive tonight and our house will be full of young and old folks. I am trying not to have any expectations as to how this will play out but the plan is to keep it low key, for me not to worry about anything at all. What will be will be. Our already brined 20 pound free range turkey is being delivered today from "Urban Digs," so how easy is that? The only two things that I plan to do for Christmas dinner are the stuffing and the gravy. Beyond that, I will supervise from the bar across from the kitchen. At least that is the loose plan. I will try hard not to micromanage nor worry about how everyone is doing. I will take care of my own self and retreat to my room whenever I feel the need.

One of the best parts of this is that Dick will get a break from being the main caregiver. There will be many others to help out if needed.

I wish for everyone, a good holiday wherever you are. No matter how tough it is going through cancer treatment there is usually a positive to be found. For me, it is again the knowledge that I have the support of so many people.


  1. A lovely trip down memory lane, or dune? We didn't spend Christmas camping in the desert, but did go at other times and memories of those trips are some of my favorite from Saudi- the freedom, camaraderie and closeness to nature made those trips so special. Sad to think that Westerners there now cannot enjoy desert camping. I hope your Christmas this year will be also special, as it sounds like it will be- surrounded by the warmth of family and friends. You deserve it! Love and hugs for this festive season and for 2013. ~Susan

  2. Someone told me the other day that it is often the suffering that really understand how blessed they are. I think that has been true for me too. We are lucky to have support on this journey. I look at all of your amazing photographs and adventures you have had- and know that this cancer journey is just another adventure. And what stories you will have to tell! Much love to you and your family - Mariposa:-)

  3. Yes, the trip to the Rub Al Khali, was one of our highlights of living in Saudi Arabia. We were thankful to be included in the trip and enjoyed getting to know all of the rowdy campers better. I often put our pictures from that trip on screen saver, and sit and watch them as they flash by.