Seeing Christmas in a New Light

by Katie Vescelus
December 5, 2013

After childhood cancer took Matthias’ sight, Christmas changed forever.

Cancer changed us in many ways; sometimes I don’t even recognize our lives anymore. Many of these changes aren’t bad — we have a deeper respect for life, an appreciation of health, and a conscious enjoyment of every moment with loved ones.

Some of the changes were difficult, and we’ve accepted them. Even the way we celebrate holidays has changed.

I’ve always enjoyed Christmas, and having children makes this time of year even more magical. In 2008, we were excited to celebrate Matthias’ first Christmas, along with Magnus, who was 2 at the time, and just starting to participate in all of the excitement of the season.


Matthias, left, with his big brother, Magnus.

December 10, 2008, Matthias was diagnosed with cancer. That Christmas, we were shocked, numb, scared, and trying desperately to keep smiles on our faces for our children who were much too young to understand the situation.

By the following year, Matthias was cancer free, and we were learning how to raise a blind child. We began to redefine our Christmas traditions, trying to find ways to engage our entire family in a holiday so visually beautiful. We’ve bought ornaments that make sound, we’ve made scented ornaments, and we buy a real tree every year.


After Matthias lost his sight, his family adopted some new Christmas traditions. “We close our eyes and wander through rows of Christmas trees trying to find the best smelling one, even if it’s not the prettiest,” Matthias’ mom, Katie, says.

Unfortunately, no matter how many wonderful ways we find to share this magical time of year, it is also a time when the full impact of what our family experienced resurfaces.

Every year, Matthias has an oncology appointment in December, which serves as a reminder of a difficult time, as well as the risks associated with being a cancer survivor. It is an upsetting day, at best.

We allow ourselves to cry…Then we take a deep breath and find happiness and beauty around us.

And honestly, no matter how many ways we find to enjoy the holidays, it hurts when Matthias can’t enjoy things like beautiful decorations. A simple light display that my son can’t see can be enough to allow that pain I keep hidden away deep in my heart to surface.

Christmastime is the only time of year I cry because my son is blind. It is the only time of year I see my husband cry because our son is blind.  I think the emotion we experience this time of year would crush us if we let it.

We deal with this in several ways. First, we allow ourselves to feel the pain. Five years after our son’s initial diagnosis, that pain is still sharp and real. I truly believe the only way to address it is to acknowledge and face it.

We allow ourselves to cry. We allow ourselves to process that pain. Then we take a deep breath and find happiness and beauty around us.


Matthias, sitting on Santa’s lap.

We dim the lights and listen to Christmas music on a beautiful music box I found a few years ago. We close our eyes and wander through rows of Christmas trees trying to find the best smelling one, even if it’s not the prettiest. We sneak nibbles as we bake cookies and other holiday treats together. We laugh as Matthias swipes Santa’s jingle bells and makes a run for it yet again.

Every year, we replace those painful memories with joyful ones, and someday, I believe we will again have peace and joy at Christmas.

This Christmas, give something that brings hope to kids with cancer. Learn more on our Moments Like This page.

Moments Like This
Read more:
Lighting the Darkness
Always Loving You, Rayanna Rose
A Moment of Peace and Gratitude with Song
Holiday Gifts That Give Back to Childhood Cancer Research