The holidays are about family, friends, traditions, food, good will, spirituality and other joys. But having cancer can mean that you’re physically and emotionally not up to the rush, pressure and schedule you’d normally embrace.
The holidays can be both a joyous and hectic time. But when you have cancer, the joys of the season may be bittersweet, and the stress of the season may be especially difficult to handle.
Still, the holidays can—and should—be a special time for people who have cancer.
Here are some tips for maintaining perspective and balance this holiday season from the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American Society of Clinical Oncology and CancerCare, all organizations that help people with cancer.
Connect with loved ones. Even if you feel isolated and anxious because of your cancer and treatment, it’s important during the holidays to search for ways—big or small—to share the true meaning of the season with others. For example, a single small dinner party or concert can be filled with spirit-lifting love and fellowship.
“We know that social networks are an important component to coping with cancer,” says Kevin Stein, PhD, managing director of the Behavioral Research Center at the ACS. “The holidays are a good time to reconnect with friends and family.”
Consider a “top five” list. Write down the five things you love about the holidays. Then brainstorm what events and traditions will help preserve them. You don’t have to accept every invitation or attend every event. Just concentrate on the ones that mean the most.
Keep things simple and let others help. If you typically host holiday gatherings, consider making some changes to the routine. For example, instead of preparing the dinner yourself, order one from a restaurant or suggest a potluck. You can ask friends and family members to help you decorate, shop, cook, plan, run errands, clean—many people are eager to help but don’t know how. You could also ask someone else to host if your stamina flags.
Be practical. A hotel room—instead of staying with family—can give you a quiet place to retreat, relax and regroup. If treatment affects your appetite, concentrate on the fellowship instead of the meals. To save your personal energy, shop for gifts online or from mail-order catalogs. And remember, writing a heartfelt personal note, favorite memory or family story or giving copies of family photos are wonderful, special gifts.
Keep up your self-care. Exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, getting enough rest and staying on treatment schedules are as important during the holidays as at other times, Dr. Stein says.
Be honest and open. You’re fighting a life-threatening battle, which makes you emotionally vulnerable. If you share your fears and tears and let people get close to you, you may be rewarded with deeper personal relationships. Take time to grieve and, if you need to, talk to a counselor or a loved one.
Don’t center the entire holiday on cancer. It’s impossible to ignore the seriousness of cancer. But sad thoughts and worries can sometimes be deflected. Practice the “stop, think and focus” approach, Dr. Stein suggested. Consciously stop thinking the negative thought (“I don’t look the same as I did”) and think of an encouraging thought to replace it with (“My family loves me for who I am”). Then focus on the new message.
“It sounds corny, but you can actually have a deck of 3-by-5 cards with positive thoughts written on them,” Dr. Stein says. “When you need to, read them over.” You may find yourself more receptive to the hugs, laughter and smiles that holiday gatherings can offer.