A Christmas Reminder by Denice MacDonald

I started working here at Deanne’s studio in July of this year and just love it. What I didn’t realize at the time I was hired, however, was I had finally found my happy, safe place. I have been bounced around a little bit, personally, in the past few years and I truly feel that I was brought here at this time for a purpose. But when Deanne expressed her wish for me to start blogging for her website I had mixed emotions. What would I write about? Would it be good enough? Are my thoughts interesting? Then something happened to me yesterday and I felt such warmth that I wanted to share it with all of our fabulous patrons and readers.

I have a daughter named Maya. When she was 2 years old she was diagnosed with Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. My family and friends were devastated but we immediately went into action mode and everyone rallied around my little girl. I lost almost everything; my job, my house, my car and my relationship with her father. I immediately relocated from my country house and moved, with my mother and daughter, into an apartment in Halifax to be nearer to the Children’s Hospital. Maya needed so many treatments. It was a gruelling path to her recovery, two and a half years of chemo, and she fought kicking and screaming, quite literally, every step of the way. I swear the nurses had to see who would draw the short straw to look after Maya on many days. We joked about it sheepishly at the time but one very patient nurse said to me, “that ‘fight’ is going to save her, you know.” So I began to relish her ‘fight’ rather than apologize for it.

Maya beat cancer beautifully. People often told me how strong I was but, as I told them at the time, I wasn’t the strong one. Maya was my hero. She hated going to the hospital and getting treatments and all the yucky stuff that was associated with it. She didn’t understand why she had to stay still and not eat for certain periods of time, why she was up at two in the morning, demanding coffee and hotdogs, because of steroid cravings. All she knew was that she loved music and wanted to dance and to play as soon as the treatment was over. My mother and I, exhausted after hours and hours at the hospital, flopped on the furniture when we got back to the apartment, but Maya was dancing and laughing and trying to get us to play. She didn’t sit around and feel sorry for herself; she just did what she had to do and got on with her day.

Maya is now a healthy and very happy six year old (almost seven Mommy!) and you would never know what she went through except that she possesses the kind of wisdom and compassion that is only bestowed on someone who has experienced great trauma. I’m still a single mom who works full time and I struggle. But I don’t think about Maya’s illness every day anymore. Things have shifted from survival mode to the more common struggles associated with parenting and yesterday was a prime example of this.

I’d like to tell you that I get along with Maya’s dad famously but it’s not the case. We disagree on many things and yesterday he told me that he wanted to see Maya more often over Christmas. It seems like a simple request but he’s never had her more than one night since she was diagnosed. In addition, it’s part of an existing court order that I need to deliver her to him and pick her up. He lives in Halifax and we live in Amherst which is a two-hour drive one way. This started my bad mood.

Then we needed to visit my grandmother in a seniors’ home. This was also a bit tense due to strong personality differences with some family members. Then I received another call from my ex that further complicated matters. This added to my bad mood. Later on I took Maya to my dad’s family Christmas party where it was VERY loud; kids were running and yelling, food was flying; more bad mood. So when my dad asked me how I was, I had had enough and I told him that I had felt pressured to bring Maya to the party and that I didn’t appreciate him making me feel that way. My dad is a very good man, I’m proud to say that. He looked at me quietly as I complained and grumbled. I expected an apology or sympathy or something! Anything!! So as I drew breath from my rant about my ex and driving and feeling pressured, he said to me in his way, “You know, I read a story in the newspaper today about a little boy in Truro who was just diagnosed with the same leukaemia that Maya had. They are really having a rough time and I thought wouldn’t it be nice if they could meet you and Maya to see how it turned out for her? Wouldn’t that give them such hope?”

In just a couple of sentences my dad gave me a wonderful gift – A Christmas reminder – to be thankful and joyful and revel in my daughter’s health and very obvious happiness. All of the troubles I was having was just because everyone wanted to see Maya and love her and enjoy her spirit. We can easily forget in this very busy and stressful season that we may already have the perfect gifts right in front of us.

I hope this message finds you and your families warm and safe and that you feel love this holiday season.


maya christmas
Maya, Christmas 2011
denice and maya
Maya and mommy on her first day of school 2014

13 thoughts on “A Christmas Reminder by Denice MacDonald

  1. Thank you for your honesty, Denise. I’m so grateful for your dad’s response…he is very wise. I’m so thankful for people in my own life like your dad who don’t let me stew. I know it is that God loves me enough to let difficult circumstances shape me and wise people remind me of that.


  2. Dear Denice,

    Never give up writing….you do have a gift. To share your story with all of us….Thank You!

    I hope and pray you never have to go through any more sickness with Maya.

    May God bless and keep you both
    Trish Talbot


  3. Sometimes life throws alittle something in our path to remind us how God has blessed our lives. Best wishes for you and your family.


  4. I’m so happy you have found your safe place. We all need to be reminded of our blessings and you have done that for me with your story. As you drive Maya back and forth to visit her father, remember that this is a gift you are giving your daughter. To have a relationship with her father. Merry Christmas!


  5. Denice, you have moved me to tears….what a wonderful outcome. My sister in law used to say to me”find the gift” as there is always a gift in all of our experiences…your dad provided wise advice but you also are wise to have found it. Thanks for sharing your story.
    Merry Christmas


  6. Lovely story. You write simply and honestly with just enough details to tell the story. Many of us have to look at the ‘other side’ to stop and appreciate what we have.
    Wishing you a nice Christmas.


  7. Your Dad is truly a very intelligent, caring man! Your Maya also has these traits. The little country “town” of Londonderry was more than happy to step up to the plate for you and your beautiful girl! Love you! Merry Christmas!


  8. A wonderful, honest, heart-moving , real life story. Thank you Denise for sharing your pain, your emotions and your journey. Blessed are those who have shared your journey, supported you and Maya, especially the strong spirited young lady herself! Have a lovely Christmas and only the best of health to you all in the coming year.


  9. Denice – what a touching story with such an important message. I worked with separated families for over 25 years, so it makes my heart so happy when I hear a parent be able to see past the conflict to realize that Maya is such a sweet child that everyone wants to spend time with her. Wishing you all the magic that the Holidays bring and enjoy every minute with your sweet Maya!
    Also – you write beautifully – from the heart so don’t be nervous to blog!
    Merry Christmas.


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