“Can you come in here for a little bit? I need to talk to you.”

I’ve always loved Christmas. The family gathering around the tree, the smell of a honey ham baking in the oven, the way the twinkle lights look in the dark if you lie underneath the tree and look up through the branches.

“I wish I didn’t have to say this at Christmastime, but since you’re heading home soon…”

It was my first holiday home with Michael. The holiday itself had been wonderful. Everyone liked him, the gifts were perfect and the house with warm with holiday cheer. I had spent a week at home without him and was planning the trip back to Rhode Island to celebrate my birthday.

“I have breast cancer.”

Have you ever felt like the time just stopped? Like everything around you is frozen and you’re staring straight ahead trying to make sense of your surroundings but nothing is clear?

“I found out on Christmas Eve, but didn’t want to ruin the holiday.”

You only get one Mom. One person that has loved you unconditionally since before you were born. That has seen you through the highest and lowest points in your life, watched you take your first wobbly step across the kitchen floor and your proudest strides across your graduation stage.

One mom.

And mine had breast cancer.

“It’s OK to be scared,” she said as she stroked my head, the wet stain from my tears creeping slowly outwards across the fabric of her jeans. She told me about the diagnosis, the treatment, the prognosis. “I’m not going anywhere,” she promised.

She kept that promise. She kept it through radiation, through the hormones, the mammograms, the countless doctor’s appointments. She kept her promise even when I wasn’t there to fight the fight with her…filled with guilt as she filled me in with updates, sitting cross-legged on my bed at college wishing I was home.

I kept my promise to stay positive, breaking down only sometimes in the quiet of the dark or the comfort of Michael’s arms. Only once did I let it overcome me, losing it completely, curled up in a ball on my oldest friend’s kitchen floor.

One year went by. Safe. But before we could reach year two, Michael’s father lost his battle with cancer. As Michael struggled with his father’s death, I felt my world starting to shake. What if mom was next?

Year two passed. Then three, then four.

Five is that landmark year. When they say the cancer probably won’t come back. Year five is just a little more than a month away.

Each Christmas I lie under the tree, looking up at the twinkle lights and remembering. Remembering that Christmas nearly five years ago. And this Christmas we will celebrate. Celebrate life and family and love.

I am so, so grateful I can hug my mom again this Christmas.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s almost over, but you can still help. Click here to help fund free mammograms.