A miraculous event occurs every holiday season: I get to go back to my parents’ home in middle Tennessee and eat with my family. All the food is incredible, of course. My mom makes the world’s best turkey, not to mention her super-healthy granola. And Mary’s sliced panettone seared in butter is making my mouth water just thinking about it. Then there’s Olivia’s excellent sweet potato casserole that’s right on the edge of being a dessert.

But those things only hint at the greatness that comes with each visit. The true holiday miracle happens when I grab a butter twist at Ralph’s Donut Shop.

These treats are made of two blobs of yeasty dough that are twisted together, fried up, and coated — I mean, drenched — with a buttery, sugary glaze. Then they’re loaded onto several trays at Ralph’s, and each one silently calls my name as soon as I walk in the door.

Although Ralph’s has a lot of different kinds of donuts, you’d be a fool not to eat the butter twists. They’re so good I have to pace myself. In fact, it’s incredibly easy for me to sit at the counter and eat them until I’m physically sick, and even then I think, “Could I eat one more?” The answer, of course, is yes.

This year, two of my friends made their annual trip from New York City to Ralph’s. “How soon can you meet us at Ralph’s?” Christy texted. “OMG let’s go!” I responded.

We sat in our normal spot on the righthand corner of the counter. Christy ordered one butter twist. Joel and I each got two. We also grabbed coffee and milk. And, as always, we needed to document the visit. We lined up as closely as we could get, all of us smiling with dramatic delight, me clutching a butter twist.

“OK,” said Joel, preparing for our Facebook image,”we have to figure out what our caption is. What’s gone on since last year?”

“Well, I had the whole brain tumor,” I said.

“Ooo, ooo, I had that awful gall bladder,” announced Christy. “Remember I had to go to the hospital three times? And you couldn’t come with me because we couldn’t find someone to take care of our daughter in the middle of the night?”

“Taking care of the kids is really hard!” I said. “Maybelle had to stay with three or four different people while I was having the biopsy and the surgery and all the follow ups. All of these changes have been hard on her.”

Joel sighed: “All I had was those weird, inconsistent liver test results. This year I decided to just go in there and see what was going on. And they found nothing! ‘Liver nonsense’ is what I call it. Alison’s was much better.”

“Hey,” Christy demanded, “mine was really impressive, too!”

As I’ve noticed time and time again, it’s kind but damaging when people tell me how heroic I am, how brave, how certain they are that I’ll fight off my brain tumor. It’s much easier for them if they assure me it’s going away, but it adds to the loneliness.

During the holidays, people seem so surrounded by joy that I sometimes step back. I see Maybelle open a present, and I’m delighted, but often with a little pain that I’m keeping hidden. When I’m surrounded by my family, it’s so wonderful that it triggers a sense of loss in me. Sometimes it’s hard for me to sleep. When I go to Ralph’s, I wonder about Maybelle getting a butter twist — will she ever like them? Will I be here?

It’s surprisingly delightful when Joel, Christy, and I talk about sickness. Christy and Joel never call me a hero, and I never call them one either. We talk about our lives in a straight-forward way: “How’s the insulin pump?” “Is radiation finished now?” And in the midst of fear and uncertainty, we’re able to crack up talking about sickness and death. All three of us could die at any moment, but at the same time, our lives are OK.

We looked at our picture. Joel wrote, “After a year of too many surgeries, me (liver), Christy (gall bladder), and Alison (brain), we still make our annual rendezvous. Celebrating life, strength, friendship, and donuts.”