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Cancer is the Pits. Buy Yourself the Shoes.

I went a little bananas on Black Friday this year. I scoped out the online sales, like I normally would. I compared. I scrolled. I clicked around happily for hours. What made this year different from every other one was my follow-through. As in I actually broke out my debit card and, gasp, purchased something.

Several somethings.

Ordinarily, I spend the weekend after Thanksgiving browsing Modcloth and Amazon in wistful admiration. I’m not a big spender. Proof of this lies in my winter jacket, which is entering its fifth season of wear and has exactly zero of its original decorative buttons and is perilously close to losing its fur-trimmed hood as well.

Treat Yo ‘Self!

This year was different. This year I’m different. This year I bought the beautiful but wholly unnecessary vintage-inspired floral frock that I wanted. Also, slouchy socks. Also, a pair of trendy wedge booties. Also, some t-shirts. Also, cardigans. And okayyyy: a pair of retro sunglasses.

The immediate giddiness that followed my retail-spree dissipated way too quickly into an unforgiving level of self-loathing. How dare I spend money on things I don’t need?! Who was this selfish, materialistic, ludicrous version of myself?! I don’t do “treat yo’self.” I do “I’m gonna pop some tags, only got 20 dollars in my pocket.”

Which is mental. I’m mental. I also have stage 3 breast cancer. I also make things way too hard on myself.

Most of us are quick to dole out smiles and favors to the people around us. We gladly plunk down our change into the barista’s tip jar. We drive our sister to the airport at 6 a.m. We let our spouse finish off the carton of peppermint ice cream. No biggie. That’s what people do. We help each other. We’re nice to each other.

Why, then, is it so bloody hard to be kind to ourselves?

Why do we insist that we don’t deserve the things we want?

Why did treating myself to a few affordable articles of clothing feel like such an objectionable offense? So unnatural? Why was I punishing myself? Hadn’t cancer done a good enough job of that on its own?

Giving myself grace shouldn’t be a chore. Being kind to myself shouldn’t be unnatural. It should be as instinctive and immediate as the affirmative I sent in answer to my friend’s recent imploring text: “Help me move this weekend?”

Let Others Show You Kindness

2017 was not my year. In January, I discovered a lump in my right breast. Which was right about the same time my 32-year-old husband was getting savagely pummeled by a new chemotherapy to treat his terminal cancer.

We do things as a couple.

The past 10 months have gone something like this: synchronizing babysitters and chauffeurs for back-to-back chemo infusions. Fleshing out our end-of-life care plans. Bizarre discussions on who we’d like to raise our 3-year-old if we both die before she’s grown. Two separate mastectomy operations. Weight loss. Hair loss. One ER visit following a freak reaction to my anti-nausea meds.

It was, you know, hard.

But it also went something like this: strangers ordering us pizza delivery. A young family spending an afternoon clearing out our overgrown yard. Encouraging messages from classmates I haven’t spoken to in over a decade. Prayers. Warm meals. Generous checks to help foot our medical bills.

You’d think by now I would have learned how to accept kindness from others with ease and grace. But it’s a steep learning curve. Not only did I find it irksome to be kind to myself while life was hurling rotten eggs at my family, I also found it weird and uncomfortable to accept help from others. At least initially.

An old friend’s employer chose our family as their “secret santa” this year. They want to brighten our holiday with sweaters and stuffed animals, which is beyond awesome. Do you know what I told my husband after they offered such a beyond awesome thing?

“Maybe we shouldn’t take it. Maybe they should give it to another family. We don’t really need anything.”

Which maybe is true.

But it’s equally true that this year was a bit of a bummer, and we could do with a little holiday cheer. If people want to love on us (and do they, ever) then maybe we should let them. Without stammering in doubtful protest. There is no shame in accepting a gift. People want to help. They need to help. It’s how we humans recharge our weary souls.

Be Kind To Yourself This Holiday

I’m not saying that I deserve material recompense for a shitty year. Because, duh, a new wardrobe won’t buy me happiness. It won’t make my husband un-sick. And it won’t guarantee that both of us are going to stick around long enough to teach our daughter how to ride a bike, or drive a car, or avenge the slimeball who breaks her heart for the first time.

But it’s a start. It’s good practice in not feeling guilty for enjoying what’s within reach. I’m learning that it’s more than okay to find delight in the generosity of others. Because giving is a two-way street. It’s mutually beneficial. And it’s definitely okay to treat myself to the occasional Internet purchase.

We don’t usually need a reminder to be kind to our neighbor. Giving ourselves grace, however, is another story. It’s an act that often leaves us looking over our shoulder in frightened disbelief, asking: “What did I just get away with?” You didn’t get away with anything, my friend. You just opened your heart to receiving grace, and there is nothing the matter with that.

I’d like to encourage you to be kind to yourself this holiday season. Let that kindness take whatever form it chooses (if you’re like me, Amazon has some terrific sales going on). And, for once, would you just let others show you some kindness? Maybe without the accompanying guilt or clumsy objections this time?

 

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  • Liz is a quiet, bookish mom from Buffalo, NY. She was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in January of 2017. Already a caregiver to her 32-year-old husband with mesothelioma, she had this to say in response: “Real cool of you life. Real cool.”

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