While most people were eating turkey around the Thanksgiving table last week, Miriam Sawka and her family opened gifts around the Christmas tree.
Miriam, 17, wanted to celebrate Christmas early because her doctors at Riley Hospital for Children don’t expect her to make it to Dec. 25. Miriam has Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that has returned twice since she was first treated at the age of 12.
She made the decision, in consultation with her care team and her parents, Dan and Stephanie, to terminate treatment, and she is working with palliative care nurse Amy Hatton to live her best life in the time she has left.
Like the FUNeral she planned earlier this month to celebrate her life in the face of death, Miriam said the family’s Thanksgiving/Christmas affair was both joyous and sad.
“We didn’t really speak about it, but we all knew it was my last Christmas – and it’s not even Christmas yet, so that was really sad,” the Carmel teen said. “Still, we had a lot of fun.”
Miriam’s two sisters, her parents and two sets of grandparents were together over the Thanksgiving holiday. There was plenty of food, though Miriam wasn’t able to eat a lot. She did, however, make room for green bean casserole (her favorite), potatoes and a taste of pecan pie.
Christmas decorations went up in the family’s home before Thanksgiving, and that includes two trees. The “fancy” one, as Miriam calls it, with its sparkling white lights and beautiful ornaments, goes in the dining room. But the kid tree, wrapped in colored lights and homemade ornaments, sits in the family room.
That’s the tree Miriam loves. She can point to a snowman decoration she made in preschool and a manatee ornament that was a gift from a friend. All of the trinkets on this tree have stories, which is why Miriam and her sisters love it so much. It’s filled with school projects and gifts of love.
The gift of love was present in abundance at the Sawka family early Christmas last week. It was expressed in material things – like the headphones and overstuffed pillow Miriam received from her parents, and in sentimental things – like the necklaces with her thumbprint that she gave to each family member.
Most of all, the family’s love was expressed in hugs, tears and yes, even a little laughter.
Just the way Miriam wanted it.
-- Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist