Home for Christmas

Out in the Cold

Out in the Cold

Journal – Christmas 2001

I slept late on the Friday before Christmas, still exhausted from my CamPath experience the day before.  The holiday period had officially begun for me.  I was to be given a reprieve from treatment, having Monday, Christmas Eve off, and continuing on Wednesday the 26th.  Given what I know now about my treatment days and the recovery day following, this was quite possibly the best Christmas present of all.  The possibility of needing to start on Ganciclovir would hang over me the rest of the day.


I have had a recurring anxiety about this Christmas.  And that is simply that it just might be my last one.  I am afraid that I will be too conscious of that fact.  I am afraid that I will become tearful as others are trying to celebrate.  I am afraid of missing other Christmas’.  I am afraid of not enjoying this Christmas enough.
Tish and I talked about this a little in the hospital.  I always engineer a huge feast for Christmas Eve.  I generally start in the morning around 8:00, preparing food throughout the day, timing everything, all dozen or so dishes to be ready by 6:30 PM.  No one is allowed in the kitchen unless they are washing the numerous dirty dishes and bowls that I produce, or else helping to bring the food hot to the table in one coordinated sweep.  For each dish I plan the preparation time, the cooking or baking time, the order in which things are finished off and at what temperature, the cooking utensils, the serving dish that each dish will occupy.  The menu always includes homemade yeast bread, a decorated quiche, homemade cranberry relish, wassail, ham, soup, and a variety of potato and vegetable dishes.  Some recipes are constant favorites, others change from year to year, the more successful dishes repeated and those less so discarded.  A group of fifteen to eighteen family and friends gather to partake of this goodness.


Obviously this year I am not quite up to this epicurean marathon.  Tish suggest that we forego the event.  That will not do for me, especially as I continue to wonder if it will be my last.  I agree to scale down, to let my sister and mother to bring dishes, and to let my boys help prepare a smaller and simpler version of the feast under my supervision.


Friday is long and lazy.  Around 3:00 I call the infectious disease office to ask the results of my CMV di-gene test.  I remind them that Dr. Streit wanted to be paged.  I am put on hold while they search the results and page the doctor.  She finally comes back on the line and reports that the results are negative.  I was expecting a numerical value so I repeat back to her what she said – negative?


This truly seems like the only good news that I have heard in the past three weeks.  I am elated, uncharacteristically so. While I am on the phone, Tish calls and I tell her the news. The only good news of this whole dark episode.  I shed tears.  The weight I have carried around is just a tad lighter.


That light of optimism carries through Saturday.  Nathan is at home.  I go through my Christmas recipes.  I traditionally make German springele cookies, an anise-lemon formed cookie.  It is a three-day affair.  First the dough is made, beating eggs and sugar together with an electric mixer for fifteen full minutes.  Into the refrigerator overnight.  The next day dividing the dough, rolling out flat and then with a special rolling pin with carved, decorative squares.  The formed cookies sit out overnight on oiled, anise-sprinkled sheets for baking on the third day.


I had forced myself to make the dough last weekend, but was unable to muster the strength to finish them before I went into the hospital.  My youngest son, Aaron, who has been my cookie apprentice these past few years, took it upon himself to roll out and bake the springeles while I was in hospital.  They are perfect.  The tradition is not only complete and intact, but it has been passed along to the next generation as well..


I discard the more complicated recipes, search through the recipe books for simpler replacements, and telephone my mother and sister to negotiate what dishes they will bring.  Next is to make up a shopping list of all necessary ingredients.  Tish will do the majority of the grocery shopping.  But I decide that I must complete another tradition.   I have Nathan drive me.  We drive through snow flurries on the way home.

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About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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