Holiday Love


An earnest acupuncture practioner inquired as she prepared to treat me, “Are you feeling stressed with the holidays?” I laughed at the thought. “Not at all”, I said, “this feels like such a precious moment for my family – no one assumes we will get another chance. It’s all just lovely.”

For the past two years, my sweetie and I have traveled to Dubuque, Iowa for Christmas as my mother contends with decreased mobility. There was little point in getting a tree. This year I wanted a tree, lights, and all the small things that give the darkest days joy. My husband offered to cut down a hedge top always beyond my reach – it blocks views and juts up in isolation. He brought it in, surprising us with its actual size. It curls at the ceiling. It is homely and quite perfect, adorned with cheer.


I used to dread the shortest days of the year but as a sick person I embrace them and feel loss as the days start lengthening. The short days suit my diminished capacities. They seem to bring the world more to my level. Life slows as days shorten and people cozy up – or, perhaps, they should.

The other day I got the lovely story below in my in-box. Prior to being diagnosed a baby had come into my life courtesy of a colleague and dear friend, Amy. Cora joined our workforce at the age of three months as her mom returned from maternity leave. We already had several office dogs (our days with ducks and hamsters behind us)

Duckling at Work

Duckling at Work

but babies can be needy so we had made certain commitments to swap time attending to Cora with after hour completion of tasks – our existing norm. I spent many a work hour with her in my arms.

Childcare at Meeting

Childcare at Meeting

In the chaotic April of 2010, multiple surgeries and wacky efforts to diagnose me left me increasingly scared. I borrowed Cora at every turn. She spent the afternoon with me as I counted down to my big, “yes, I have ovarian cancer” surgery. She would frequently visit me in bed as I recovered. Her mom emailed me this story and photo a few days ago.

May all of our holidays be meaningful and caring.  (And yes, I do owe us a medical update – suffice it to say that it has been an intense month of trying to build medical consensus on my next steps. Consensus may be here just as I disengage from all medical thoughts — cancer, what is that? — for the next week. So stay tuned. And enjoy a little holiday tale.)

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah and Carol brought a menorah over to light with us. Cora has learned some of the story of Hanukkah this year and chimed in as Carol narrated what we were doing.

We don’t really know the blessing you say when you light the candles so after Carol said the prayer in Hebrew and translated some for us, I asked the kids to share something they were hopeful for.

Cora piped up, “I hope Marcy doesn’t die.” Then she explained to Carol about your bad cancer.

Leo then shared, “And I hope her other person doesn’t die.”

“Mike?” I asked. “Yep.” he said.

We all agreed.

So you our our Hanukkah hope this year.

Holding you both dearly in our hearts.

Much love,




About marcy westerling

I am a long time community organizer with a passion for justice and founded the Rural Organizing Project in 1992. Derailed by a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer diagnosis in spring 2010, I have stayed in treatment since then. I am learning how to embrace livingly dying and hope that by starting a Phase One immunology clinical trial at UPenn in spring of 2013 I will have more time to find the sweet spots of thriving while terminally ill.

28 responses »

  1. Thanks dear friend! Been thinking a lot about you. I had to keep the picture of your tree. Besides being a fond memory of you (You told me about the tree on one of our walks), it reminds me of so many of my own fun Xmas tree memories. I can’t wait to share it with my sisters especially. May your holiday burst with LOVE and FUN!   Hugs, Sylvia

  2. What a beautiful tree!! Truly! It has its own character and isn’t neatly trimmed like a triangle.
    And what a beautiful story you shared about your little friend. That’s a gift to us.
    Sending love and wishes for a peaceful, joyous, funny, Marcy-kind of holiday.

  3. May our love blanket you with all the warmth you need. Love you much. Thank you for all that you are sharing and the very best to you in the new year. Niis

  4. What a touching story! I share in Cora and Leo’s Hanukkah hopes. Your tree brought back good memories of the years you and Mike allowed me to share the joy of your Christmas tree when I was missing having one of my own. May you find peace and pleasure in your holiday respite.

  5. Marcy, I wish you the very best with lots of love and hugs. Your tree is magnificent. Thank you for sharing your life.

    Your Teal sister, Carol

  6. Loved the tree. It’s style reminds me of your hand made crepe Valentine’s day card of about a decade ago. I still have that card. There’s something so real and true about the card, just as with the tree.

    Have always loved you since evening one, at UGM basement in Ashland.

  7. This touches me deeply, Marcy. Solstice season always moves me–light emerging from predominant darkness. Our recent visit has framed that for me in a way that brings it home even more. May you have a respite from all the indignities of cancer for your Dubuque visit and this most poignant of times.

  8. Love your tree! Our family had many like these and they were always my girls’ favorite….”A Charlie Brown Christmas tree” . Thank you for continuing to share the gift of your life and your writing. Enjoy your family time in Iowa. You still never cease to amaze me. My best to you in the New Year as you begin your next trial treatment.

  9. A perfect Charlie Brown tree and such lovely sentiments from Cora and Leo. Where would the world be without children. They are our hope and our future. I wish you the same as they do for this coming year. May your holidays be bright. Love and hugs.

  10. What a perfect tree…. Simple, and beautiful adorned with lights to guide you in and out……….. Wishing you the cosiest of Christmases yet —- and and I neither you nor Mike Die. _ You vibrant spirit reaches out to me from my coffee table every day…….the lovely stone you shared with me will always hold a special place in my home and heart……… For knowing you so briefly – you touched our lives greatly….. Missing you and hoping you are peaceful.

  11. Ah baby medicine!

    Yesterday, I got an infusion of baby love at the oncology center, so grateful that a whole family accompanied their old abuela.

    Marcy, may concentrated love fill your lungs, brain, whole being!

    This is a tender, precious time with Mike, your mom, you and all who care for and about you.

    Marcy may the solstice dark (and new moon dark too!) deepen and concentrate into another type of medicine, infusing you with a slower, deeper joy.

    very much love always,
    Stephanie Sugars

  12. Marcy- thank you for bringing much needed light and grace into my holiday season. Your words are such a blessing to me. No need to send good wishes to you- because you already have it all, peace, love- you are a light. Usha

  13. Hello Marcy, the wonderful woman that I think about ALOT, more than you’ll ever know.
    Wishing you “peace, love, joy – the same warm wishes – but always the hope is new.’

    The book that you mentioned (title?! I’m brain dead and cannot remember it but it is a great one to read for one and all. It is a non-fiction about her life of being confined to bed and how the caged little animal in her room affected her life and thoughts.

    I need to do a summary of books that I have checked out from the library so I can remember the name of the book to share with others. My short term memory isn’t all that great lately. I think it is called old age.

    Thinking of you!

  14. Dear Marcy, i wish you and Mike much light and love during these winter holidays. I love how aware and engaged you are in your life. Your bright spirit shines. I wish we could spend a day together making stuff. : ) xo, lisa


  16. Marcy, thanks for sharing your blog. I wish you warmth and love this holiday season. You empower me as an oncology provider through your authentic honest entries. Hugs from Syracuse, NY.

  17. wow , what a beautifully written post. I would never have thought after my diagnosis with Ovarian cancer that I would consider myself lucky. But I am. We are STILL here. HERE.
    Best of the holidays to you and your family.

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