You Only Live Once But If You Do It Right Once Is EnoughYou only live once.

This expression—or the acronym YOLO—has gained mass appeal in the past few years.  I feel like people say it all the time, usually to explain their carefree attitude or sometimes a seemingly irrational decision.  When you get diagnosed with an incurable (though treatable, I am constantly assured...) disease like multiple myeloma—which I was 14 months ago—the idea that you only live once crosses your mind quite a bit.

I wouldn’t normally describe myself as a big risk-taker, pre- (or post-) diagnosis.  So my “YOLO” attitude has usually been more about not wanting to wait to do things and maximizing every opportunity that presents itself.

But now, this Christmas, my “YOLO” attitude is making me become a cliché.  We are getting our kids a puppy for Christmas!  Our three kids—ages 8, 7 and 5—have been BEGGING for a dog for what seems like forever. To their credit, they are keen negotiators.  Their first offer?  "If we get a dog, we don’t want  ANYTHING  else from Santa for Christmas" (of course, that didn't stop them from creating long lists filled with requests for an Xbox, American Girl dolls and all sorts of My Little Pony paraphernalia).  Offer #2?  An already agreed-upon division of labor among the kids, presented to me by my oldest daughter, who said “I will clean up the poop, Mommy. And you have to know I’m serious if I’m offering to clean up the poop!” (It’s hard to disagree with this logic…).

This isn’t a decision we take lightly.  A dog is a BIG responsibility for the entire family.  And I do not delude myself into thinking that either proposal will come to pass—there WILL be other presents expected (and—who I am kidding—given), and I know that my husband and I will primarily be taking care of this dog.  A dog—a PUPPY no less—will add more chaos, mess and insanity to a life that is already chock full of all those things. I work full-time (at a pretty demanding job), I have three young kids who are involved in multiple activities and, by the way, I have cancer, which requires me to travel to treatment one day a week.  That said, I am what I would gratefully describe as a lucky myeloma patient.  After a stem cell transplant in February and maintenance treatment, my numbers are great, and I have achieved a Stringent Complete Remission.  I have hardly ANY side effects from the cocktail of bortezomib (Velcade), dexamethasone (Decadron) and lenalidomide (Revlimid) I take three weeks out of four.  I am strong, healthy and active.  I. AM. LUCKY.

And because of this, I want to LIVE.   I don’t want to wait for (fill in the blank) to happen to take that trip or, as is the case this holiday season, get that puppy.  Life will never be less than crazy than it is now—why wait??

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. I love bringing the box of ornaments down from the attic and unwrapping each one, remembering the story behind it. I love decorating the tree with my kids, despite the perfectly imperfect placement of ornaments (for some reason the heaviest ones always seem to be placed on the weakest branches...).  I love trying to think of that PERFECT present and the look when it's unwrapped by the recipient.   And even though I moan and groan every night, I love the ridiculous Elf on a Shelf because my children truly believe that he travels back and forth to the North Pole EVERY SINGLE night to report back to Santa. How can you not find joy in that kind of blind belief and innocence?

This past year has absolutely been the hardest of our lives.  I am 43 years old—I NEVER expected to hear, two months before Christmas last year, that I have cancer, especially one that—as of today—doesn’t have a cure.  I NEVER expected, two months later, that my 68-year-old father (relatively young by today’s standards) would die suddenly and unexpectedly two days after Christmas.   As much as I have always loved Christmas, I'm not going to lie—this made last year’s holiday season pretty hard.

But one year later, my perspective continues to grow.  These two things made for the most difficult experiences of my life, but I have survived. I feel grateful that I was strong enough to carry that box of ornaments down from the attic.  I smile at our lopsided tree, with the crooked star at the top, thankful to be in my home, with my family to enjoy it every night. And I am so appreciative that I am healthy—and CRAZY—enough to be welcoming a new member to our family in the next few days.

This holiday will undoubtedly be bittersweet.  But as a mom, I have a responsibility to make sure that my children experience every joy of Christmas.  Kids don't care if you're sad or under the weather—Santa doesn't take a sick day.   When I think of how unbelievably happy and surprised my kids will be on Christmas morning, when they see this puppy—a puppy we have assured them wouldn't be joining our family for many, many years—I can barely contain my own excitement. And to me, THAT is what Christmas is about—celebrating family, honoring traditions and making lifelong, unforgettable memories.   This year for us that will mean adding an adorable, messy, untrained puppy to our already-crazy, hectic and unpredictable lives.  Bring it on, I say. You only live once....but as they say—if you do it right, once is enough.


Jen Moog