Cancer doesn’t care that the holidays are here! Navigating through all the hoopla will require a few changes. Check out this article, How to Survive the Holidays with Cancer, to help guide you through!
Researchers and survivors offer tips on getting through the season after a diagnosis.
Surviving the holidays takes on a whole new meaning when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Sure, you’re happy to be alive, but how are you supposed to bake cookies when you can’t stand the sight of food? Attend the annual holiday party when you’re wrung out from radiation? Go shopping or wrap presents when your hands and feet don’t work because of chemo-induced nerve damage?
“I feel pressure from others and from myself to make Christmas the best for my kids,” said Brandie Langer, a 35-year-old breast cancer survivor and mother of three who went through mastectomy, chemo, radiation and reconstruction three years ago. “People ask me to do things or help out and I love helping, but there’s only so much energy to go around.”
Dr. Karen Syrjala, co-director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Survivorship Program, said one of the biggest challenges for cancer patients and survivors is to think in terms of how the holidays are now as opposed to how they used to be or “should be” in our minds.
“It’s easy to get caught up in that ‘I’ve always done these things’ mindset,” she said. “But survivorship can be an opportunity to rethink your priorities and go forward rather than carrying around the baggage of expectation. It’s a chance to focus on the meaning of the holiday rather than the mass consumption.”
Whether you’re still reeling from a recent diagnosis, currently going through treatment or still trying to adapt to your “new normal,” here are some tips to help you navigate the holidays post-cancer.
Know, and honor, your limits
Limit your list. In years past, you’ve chopped down your own tree, held a dazzling holiday fête and baked enough cookies to give Mrs. Fields a run for her money. But that was before diagnosis and treatment. Now, you may not even have the energy to put on an ugly Christmas sweater much less shop, wrap, decorate, bake, clean and send out hundreds of handwritten cards. While it’s frustrating not being able to do everything you did before, try not to beat yourself up about it: your body, your brain and your budget have been through the mill. Instead, be gentle with your post-cancer self. If you want to buy gifts, shop online instead of braving the crowds and all their cold and flu germs (especially if you’re immunocompromised) and definitely take advantage of gift-wrap services. Use email or social media to send out holiday greetings. Ask a neighbor or friend to string your holiday lights. Prioritize one or two things that are especially meaningful to you – trimming the tree? making cookies with the grandkids? – and simply jettison the rest. “My best advice is to cut your holiday list in half,” said Jody Schoger, a breast cancer survivor and advocate. “Then cut it in half again. Staying within your limits is one of the best gifts you can give your family.”
Pull the cancer card. The holidays can be overwhelming for most people, but they can be especially tough for cancer patients, survivors and/or caregivers who may also be juggling treatment, medical appointments, side effects, and the psychological and emotional toll of a diagnosis. “Allow yourself to do less, to delegate and to let people know you may not be up for certain activities,” Syrjala said. “It’s okay to pull the cancer card although you don’t even have to say the word ‘cancer.’ Just say, ‘It’s been quite a year and I won’t be able to do things the same way this holiday.’ People will get it.” Instead of making the holiday dinner, ask someone else to host, opt for potluck or go out to a restaurant. Limit your time with high-maintenance friends or relatives or, better yet, simply skip seeing them. Extend the holiday into January so you can enjoy the company of loved ones at a much less frantic pace. Too tired or overwhelmed to even think about gifts or shopping? Then don’t. People will understand.
Be prepared for crazy cancer comments. Patients and survivors hear stupid cancer comments all year ‘round. Why should the holidays be any different? “The first step is to know they’re coming,” said Syrjala. “Expect the boneheaded questions and the stupid wrong advice and have your response ready. Then it’s easier to almost ignore it.” If a friend or family member gives you a basketful of “cancer-curing” shark cartilage or some other questionable cancer-related gift, simply thank them for thinking of you and move on, said Syrjala. Ditto for the people who pass judgment on your treatment. “If someone says, ‘I’m so sorry you’re doing chemotherapy. If you’d just take these supplements, they’d cure you,’ tell them, ‘I’m so glad you care.’ Don’t feel you need to explain or educate. In a holiday setting, you don’t have to go there.”