The holiday season can be a magical, joyous time of year. There’s nothing quite like the period from Thanksgiving (for our friends in the U.S) through New Year's Day (to our friends around the world!) that generates feelings of warmth and togetherness. There’s a level of excitement in the air, and expectations are high. But the holidays can also be overwhelming for some people, creating added stress and pressure. It can be an especially difficult time for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers who may be managing treatments, side effects, medical appointments, and the all consuming psychological and emotional toll of a cancer diagnosis.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. No matter what your situation, i.e., coming to terms with a recent diagnosis, going through treatment, or trying to adapt to a ‘new normal’, here are a few tips that may help you successfully navigate the holiday season and enjoy it!
Be Kind to Yourself
Accept that things may be different from your past holidays. You may not feel up to some time-honored traditions. That’s okay. You may have been the queen of over-the-top holiday celebrations in the past, but now you’re not even sure you can prepare a meal or wrap gifs. Sure, it’s frustrating not to do everything you did before, but try not to beat yourself up about it. You’ve had a challenging time. Be gentle with your post-cancer self.
Communicate Your Needs
Your health comes first. If your breast cancer makes it difficult to plan and implement the things you usually do for the holidays, let your loved ones know. These are people who love you and want the best for you. They will be happy to fill in for you. You may not be able to host the annual holiday get-together this year. Have guests bring a dish for a potluck type of meal. Use disposable plates and utensils (with apologies to the environment). Or ask another friend or relative to host the event this year.
Adjust Your Expectations
Even without dealing with breast cancer, everyone has a vision of the perfect holiday. When the holidays fail to measure up to our expectations, disappointment and stress can steal the season’s joy. Let go of the illusion of the ‘perfect’ holiday. Focus on what’s important, which means connecting with loved ones, being grateful, and looking forward to a new year. If you usually travel to spend the holidays with loved ones but cannot due to treatment side effects like fatigue and nausea, visit via a video chat service such as Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime for a memorable holiday call on a smartphone or laptop.
Brace Yourself for Crazy Cancer Comments
Patients and survivors can be subjected to stupid cancer comments at any time of the year. Well-meaning friends and relatives may take it to the next level during the holidays. When your distant aunt brings a gift basket of ‘cancer-curing’ treats for you, your first instinct may be to ask her why she isn’t sharing this with the experts at the Mayo Clinic. You will feel much better if you just thank her and move on (trust us on this).
Even though your role might be limited compared to years past, the holiday season is vital to every cancer patient because it allows them to reconnect with what is important in their lives; their loved ones. Those social connections don’t just make us feel good; scientific research shows that they are vitally important to our health. There’s significant evidence that social support and feeling connected can keep us healthy in many ways, including improving cancer survival and overall mental health.
The holiday season can be a wonderful opportunity to spend time with family and friends. If you find yourself stressed about the holidays or just want to connect with people who understand what you’re going through, check out our virtual Thursday night Thrivers MeetUp.
We hope this magical season renews your spirit. Have a wonderful holiday!