Christmas spirit. There is nothing more satisfying than walking past a window of a home with a dressed Christmas tree glowing back at you. The pretty lights, the fairy on top of the tree and the instant magical feeling you get from even smelling the tiniest bit of cinnamon or gingerbread. Wandering past shop window displays with faux snow and mistletoe, the local high-street is transformed into a glistening winter wonderland.
And there, at the end of the road is a person dressed up to the nines on a work Christmas party. Slumped on the floor, head in hands adorned with a Father Christmas hat. But Father Christmas isn’t smiling and handing out presents. Father Christmas is being sick into his own lap with his or her friend frantically moving out of the way of the vomit.
A night in the pub over Christmas can go from drinking mulled wine, cosy in front of fire place, to downing fluorescent coloured shots very quickly. I used to get so drunk I would go home and not remember a thing, which would mean I’d have drunk myself to the point of a black out. Negotiating my safety, and my mental health the next day.
But one Christmas, whilst sitting inside a pretty sitting room, mince pies in the oven and beautiful twinkling fairy lights sparkling away on the Christmas tree, there could not have been more of an ugly scene. I was being sick into my own lap, for another reason. Chemotherapy. After returning from a boozy holiday in Benidorm, sleeping all day and drinking for most of the night, I was given the terrifying news that I had grade 3 breast cancer. At 25 years old, I was told I only had a 30% chance of survival. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, Herceptin treatment, IVF treatment to freeze my eggs, and delayed reconstructive surgery.
Bugger. That’s my social life out the window, was one of my first thoughts. I was angry at myself. I blamed myself for getting cancer for a long time, and still do. Had it been the booze? Or perhaps the cigarettes? I’ll never know the cause of my breast cancer, but I had a self-indulgent, excessive lifestyle, and didn’t think twice about my health before the day of my diagnosis.
Breast cancer was my new cruel companion now. My breast removed, my hair fallen out from the chemotherapy. And months of treatment ahead. And just like that, I couldn’t join in with conventional socialising. My social life turned from last orders at the bar, to gossiping with other cancer patients in chemotherapy wards about our ailments.
The drinking stopped, the smoking stopped, and my lifestyle dramatically changed. I love socialising, but I learned that I could do this without the added wingman of ‘booze’ holding my hand. I went on my first ever date - sober. Facing my own mortality, I had nothing to lose. Terrified and pessimistic, I wondered what sort of fun were we going to have on this date…go for a walk?
It was just us…no DJ, no alcohol infused confidence. But we talked. And listened. We could hear each other’s words and it was a mutual exchange of conversation. And the next day, I remembered everything. Including that I wanted to marry this man.
Over time I have learned to love myself as a woman, and feel without the excessive consumption of alcohol I have a better chance. I also remember my good times the next day, rather than agonise about the lack of memory. And what’s more, I have learned that alcohol isn’t synonymous with having fun.
I could have a Christmas drink, but I know it won’t stop with one. Having been through breast cancer, I knew I couldn’t go on living the unhealthy lifestyle I used to live, and for me, that means not drinking. I will always love and treasure of the spirit of Christmas, I just don’t need to drink vodka to do it.
Enjoy Christmas and New Year, but spare a thought for your body. Dry January is a fantastic way to give talking, instead of toasting glasses, a go. To sit back and reflect on a peaceful Christmas. I know I want to remember it.
Experts estimate that 6 per cent of breast cancers in women are linked to regularly drinking alcohol. Breast Cancer Now, the UK’s largest breast cancer charity, have teamed up with Alcohol Concern for Dry January, to raise awareness that drinking alcohol increases a woman’s breast cancer risk.
Sign up now to take part in Dry January, kick-start a healthier new year and raise vital funds for Breast Cancer Now.