Thanksgiving Memories

Dad in the kitchen making a Thanksgiving turkey (circa 1990's)

Thanksgiving was always my Dad’s special holiday. For as long as I can remember, on Thanksgiving day he would be up early preparing the turkey, mixing the gravy, mashing the potatoes, and making my grandma’s famous corn pudding. Thanksgiving was one of the rare occasions when we would eat in the dining room, using my parent’s wedding china and our best wine glasses. The family would say what we were thankful for (sometimes serious, usually sarcastic) and devour the home-cooked meal while listening to classical music play on the stereo. And of course, I can’t forget to mention how we loved the pumpkin and pecan pies that always followed the meal – with plenty of Cool Whip on top.

After my Dad was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer in 2007, our Thanksgiving meals became even more special. We felt a stronger sense of togetherness as a family and our list of things to be thankful for was more meaningful (and serious) than before.

Thanksgiving with the cousins (circa 1996)

There was less bickering and more reminiscing. Dad still cooked the turkey with all the fixings, but didn’t go back for seconds as he used to do. But, we were still a family, and despite his chemo regimen and frequent visits to the ER with fevers and chills, we were still determined to celebrate this holiday of eating.

Thanksgiving 2007 - shortly after my Dad's diagnosis of stage IV stomach cancer

Life has changed drastically since that year. My Dad lost his battle with stomach cancer in 2009, and my brother and I have both had our stomachs surgically removed only to find the same type of stomach cancer already in its beginning stages.

We are slowly adjusting to life without a father, and life without a stomach. There are good days and bad days – both physically and emotionally – that we must endure.

The first Thanksgiving after my Dad died, we escaped the U.S. holiday and spent a week on an island beach. We weren’t ready to cook a turkey dinner without him.

Now that we are adjusting to the “new normal”, Thanksgiving is a time to honor his memory. As a smaller family, we sometimes joke that dinner is not the same with only 3 people and 1 stomach. My brother and I eat smaller portions than we used to, but still enjoy Dad’s recipes just as much. Turkey and potatoes are comfort foods, and our Thanksgiving meal is a time to be together and give thanks for our health.

Thank you, Dad, for all the wonderful Thanksgiving memories.

About Johanna Chelcun

Johanna Chelcun is a Physician Assistant who lives in New Haven, Connecticut. Johanna tested positive for a CDH-1 gene mutation in 2008 after her dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She had a prophylactic gastrectomy in December 2010.

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