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The Year of the Missing Christmas Sweater

Andrea Sanchez

Ever since D was born in 2012, which also coincided with the year I started designing, I have designed a special sweater for him to wear to our holiday events. When N came along last year, he got a special sweater too.

But this year something happened. Really it has been happening since right before Christmas last year. This thing sucked all the creative energy I had. In reality, it was about all I could do to prioritize the things I had to and actually get THOSE done. I still had to go to work, I still had to feed my family. It was about all I could manage. Which is why I have completed ONE knitted (baby) item this year. You heard me right people. ONE. I've been meaning to tell you all about this for some time now, but didn't really know what to say and to be honest, I still don't really. 

The first week of December 2016 I flew out to California (where I'm originally from and where my parents still live). My mom was having some health issues and they were doing a surgery stint her bile duct and biopsy a mass that was causing the blockage. Through this surgery we found out that my mom had stage 3 pancreatic cancer. I'm not sure if you know much about pancreatic cancer but the odds are pretty dismal.

My mother's older brother has died from this type of cancer in 2007 so we knew what we were up against. She immediately started very aggressive chemotherapy and we hoped and prayed for the best. After 6 months of chemo, at the end of May, my mom was able to undergo a resection of the tumor. It had shrunk enough that the surgeons felt they could safely remove it. Her surgery was successful and her surgeon very positive. I flew out there with both my kids in June/July to spend some extended time with her and my family (throughout the previous 6 months I had been flying out for long weekends once a month, alone or with just one kiddo to help out as much as I  could). 

We were so thrilled with how she was getting her energy back and getting stronger. Her doctors were recommending another few months on an easier chemotherapy to be sure they were treating all the cancer. At a follow up appointment right after we flew back home, we found out that even thought he surgery had seemed successful, in the 7 weeks since the surgery, the cancer had reappeared on her pancreas and had actually spread to her lymph nodes and liver. Now stage 4. 

Since August, I was back to traveling out west monthly. I started wondering if she would be around to see the New Year, or the birth of my third son (oh, yea, baby #3 by the way, is coming in February). My last visit at Thanksgiving was very discouraging. My mom slept most of the time, her personality had changed a lot, and it was as though I was spending time with someone else's mother. It was heartbreaking. I was planning on coming back over the Christmas holiday but was terribly aware of the fact that I might need to come out sooner. 

Sure enough, after a hospital stay for a blood infection (her 3rd in less than two months) she was released and sent home on December 7th. Her birthday was the following day and when I called she wasn't really aware of why I was calling. She actually hung up on me after just a minute. That's the last time I spoke with her. 

The next day my dad suggested I come out as soon as possible as things weren't looking good. I booked my flight for midday Tuesday. N and I took off on our trip (it generally takes us 7-8 hours to fly to or from California) and arrived about 9pm Tuesday night. I had a terrible feeling the entire trip (and honestly had had this feeling since the week before). When we found my brother waiting for us I asked the inevitable, "I didn't make it, did I?" No. My mother died at 3:10pm pacific time while I was in flight, preparing to take off from my layover stop. My dad, brother, and husband had decided to keep the information from me until I arrived, which was probably best, especially considering I had the baby with me. 

My beautiful mother, 1976

My beautiful mother, 1976

So my holiday this year has been spent helping plan funeral arrangements, and wondering how to go on when your best friend is gone. I'm not looking for answers, because I don't think there really are any. I was lucky enough to be loved and raised by someone who saw parenting as the hardest and most valuable job there is. Who put all her time, love, and effort into making sure I had everything I ever needed. Who made me a strong, self-assured, confident woman. Who reminded me to always show my kids more love than discipline. 

 I've picked my needles back up and cast on for N's Christmas Sweater (we'll call it a New Year's Sweater this year) and am finding some comfort in being able to keep my hands busy. I am working hard at reminding myself to be grateful for the things I have, like my health, and my own children who have reminded me to still find joy in the season.