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We were just a few days into December when my 9-year-old came home from school demanding an explanation as to why our family couldn't have an Elf-on-the-Shelf. Now I'd had this discussion in previous years, but it was clear to me that he wasn't going to let it go so I had to choose my words quickly and carefully. I was reminded of his favourite holiday film, The Polar Express, in which a little boy comes to believe in Santa, and that magic stays with him into adulthood, unlike his friends and sister, for whom the magic disappears. That was it, I had my retort.

"First off, remind me how this elf works. How exactly does he move about?" to which he replied, "First you must name the elf. Then it comes to life and starts doing all of these crazy and fun things at night" - I interrupted, "So you have to name him and believe in him for the magic to work?" "Yes, that's right". I could almost see the finish line. "Oh dear...well here's the thing. Mom doesn't believe in Elf-on-the-Shelf. They didn't exist when I was a girl, and well, it was just not one of the holiday traditions our family grew up with. I actually know someone like me - who also doesn't believe in them - she bought one last year regardless, and do you know what happened? She stuck in on the shelf, they named it, and the next day he was right there sitting exactly where they'd left him. The same thing happened the next night, and the next. Her kids were terribly disappointed." He stared at me, jaw dropping, then uttered, " have to BELIEVE. Well then that's not going to work, is it?" Case closed. Whimsical, energy-zapping, nightly elf portraiture averted for another year, hopefully indefinitely. All thanks to my (perceived) lack of faith.

Faith is a tricky and delicate word. For many, it evokes a highly religious tone, and is reserved for deep-seated discussions on life, death and the after-life. For some, faith is something we conjure up in times of duress, carefully balancing on its high wire, breath held, hoping we don't tip the scale and fall off. To others, faith is more of an annoyance, a reminder of things we neither feel nor feel the need to acknowledge. I spent the majority of my life in this last scenario, secure in my absence of faith. Then, through a series of hardships several years prior to my cancer diagnosis, I came to challenge my beliefs, fell flat in the face of faith and could refute it no more. 

When my water broke at 27 weeks and I was told that 75% of women deliver within 24 hours, I said, "Well it's a good thing I am part of the 25% then." He was born at 31 weeks, tiny and perfect. Life was grand then, and grander still with the arrival of his sister two years later. Then, coinciding with the birth of my third child came a breast cancer diagnosis, and the insurmountable challenge of a year of chemo, surgery and radiation with 3 kids aged 4 and under. Interestingly, my faith diverted from a higher power to the scientific world. I believed 100% that treatment would work, and I welcomed its vile touch with a pure mind and an open heart. As much as I feared death that first year, I never truly believed that the cancer would kill me. Instead, I believed in the chemo, I believed in my medical team, and I believed in the life I had created for myself and my young family.  I had faith in something, and therefore I had hope, hope that things would never be as bad as they had been. Hope became my focus, and I think it is why I am here today, about to enter 2017, the year that will denote my 5th Cancerversary. But hope has not come easily, and I have worked at it tirelessly every single day.

2016 has been hard on so many of you. Friends and family have suffered unimaginable loss, and others continue to fight silent battles we know nothing about. Others still, have been graced with another year which by all accounts should never have existed. There are those who have been blessed with the promise of new unions and new life, and those who have gone off in different directions. In 2016, I separated from my husband. It has been a year of chaos, heartache and surprise. I know we are all looking to the New Year for a fresh start and a new beginning. But how do we get there when it all seems too much? Let me ask you this:

When you are at your worst, what is it that makes it so unbearable? ls it the circumstances themselves, the way they make you feel, or is it the absence of the known? For me it has always been the latter. Not knowing what is about to unfold, and the lack of control that walks hand in hand with it, are what make me question myself and my ability to survive. It's the dreaded "fear of the unknown". During the almost 4 years since my treatment ended, not a day has gone by that I haven't feared a recurrence. This year, I struggled with ongoing cognitive impairments and physical challenges that made working full-time hours impossible and managing my household on a reduced salary very challenging. I have feared I couldn't "do it all" in my new, post-cancer existence. 

But I've learned to acknowledge that fear. I look it up and down daily and regularly tell it to piss right off. I pushed fear aside when I took the decision to live as a single mother. I try not to linger on the not knowing bits, and turn my gaze to what I do know. I know that I don't know what's coming. I know that I'm stronger than I care to admit. I know that the world is filled to the brim with good people like you, but is overshadowed by a few bad eggs. Good things could be on their way, in fact they probably are already in the works. I keep faith in myself, in my dreams, in my life and in those closest to me, especially my children. By believing in these things, I have managed to plough through the dark times and stay afloat, one breath at a time. And that is truly something.

Whether you believe in Yourself, your God, Science, the Universe, or the magic of Christmas elves, the important thing is that you have Faith, faith that this moment, this day, this year will all pass, like the New Year, and that you are someone who was born, who was named, who was looked at in wonderment and anticipation, and who is living their life the best that they can.

Believe it to see it.
You've got to have faith.
May the faith be with you.


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