The Worst Christmas Ever, Part 2
Posted by Hal and Melanie Young in Christian Living, Family Life, Holidays

The Christmas I Couldn’t Sing

My family doesn’t have a history of cancer, so the news that I might have lymphoma had a sense of unreality to me…


I didn’t have any symptoms to speak of.

Losing weight? Well, yes, I had lost weight, but I had been dieting for several months and was frankly quite happy with what seemed to be the results.

Unexplained bleeding? No, none that I’d noticed and I would think I would notice.

Hair loss? Well, my father was bald when he was thirty, and at forty-five I was blessed to still have hair. Any thinning was par for my family’s course.

Well, any symptoms specific to lymphoma, any swollen lymph nodes? None. It turned out my tumor was in the space behind my breastbone, where it had room to grow without bulging the skin or even being detectable like a neck gland that swells when you catch a cold.

So we stared at the x-rays and the pathology reports, stunned. No warning, and not even a fatalistic thought of something inevitable finally arrived. And with no symptoms or even discomfort, it was like hearing someone else’s story–not my own.

RRM Worst Christmas Eggs

Others were not so detached. My mother bravely kept her anxieties from me, but was careful to be sure she got pictures of each one of the children with me separately when she came to visit.

My sons pledged to show their solidarity with Dad by shaving their heads.

“Please don’t,” I said. “When I sit down for dinner, you’ll look like a carton of eggs.” Well, half a carton, we only have six boys, but still.

(As it happened, I didn’t lose my hair during chemotherapy. The joke would have been on the guys if they’d done it anyway.)

The one symptom I had drove the reality home. I lost the ability to sing.

I’m not a trained singer by any means. Many years of playing tuba in band had taught me to hear the bass line in the music, though, and I’d finally made the connection between the written notes and singing–a different skill than playing an instrument. I love the congregational singing in church, joining my family for impromptu hymn sings and “ballads, songs, and snatches” of Gilbert & Sullivan, or even just singing in the car by myself. Music is an important part of my life and our family life.

But after my biopsy, I found I couldn’t sing.

The oncologist explained that the tumor had grown to the point it pressed on one of the nerves to my larynx, so it interfered with the control of my vocal cords. I didn’t have a problem speaking, but I couldn’t hit a note or hold it. For the first time, I found myself standing mute in church, reading the words of the hymnbook but unable to sing them. Christmas carols that year were a literary exercise.

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When we had our much-anticipated annual caroling party, the fact I was just a day out of surgery was an excuse to stay home while the group went out. In my heart, though, it was the loss of my singing that was coming home. That, surprisingly, was my first realization was that this was true–something was going wrong, something I’d neither experienced nor expected.

It was the Christmas I couldn’t sing. Not because I was depressed … but because I wasn’t able. That’s when it hit home.

 Stay tuned.

Read Part 1.  Part 3. Part 4. Part 5.

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Learn about our annual Caroling Party and how easy it is to preserve this great tradition in our eBook, Christ-Centered Christmas. When else can you knock on a stranger’s door, loudly sing the gospel to him, and have him respond, “Please, just one more! Let me get Mama.”

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