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Ideas for coping with cancer during the holidays

The holiday season can be a difficult time for cancer patients and their caregivers. It is especially challenging if you are undergoing treatment or receive a new diagnosis during this time. Even under normal circumstances, the holidays can get a little stressful. The festivities are fun, but juggling your day job, shopping for presents, preparing to host a gathering, or traveling can become overwhelming. Add cancer to the mix and conflicting emotions begin to emerge.

Perhaps you wonder, “Will I be here next year?” Then, a sense of urgency takes over, and you are on a mission to make this the best holiday season EVER. Because it might be your last. At the same time, there are moments when you don’t feel so cheerful, and you want to retract. One minute, you may find yourself wanting to do what you’ve always done during the holidays, and the next you are overtaken by fear and sadness.

It is normal to feel any of these things — separately or simultaneously.

I underwent treatment during the holidays, and I found that the best way to deal with my emotions and the holiday pressures was to:

  1. Acknowledge rather than suppress how I felt
  2. Share my feelings with others
  3. Take care of myself first

Here are some tips for putting these ideas to practice. I think they are helpful for minimizing stress during the holidays or any other time when emotions and life’s pressures start to distress you.

Acknowledge Your Feelings, but Don’t Get Stuck in a Rut

When you have cancer (or are preoccupied with something) you may try to put up a front and act as if everything is okay, but this can actually increase stress and overwhelm you. When I stopped bottling up my emotions and gave myself permission to feel whatever it was I was feeling at the moment, I experienced a sense of relief. I realized that feeling sad and scared was okay.

They key is to avoid being perpetually sad and look for ways to turn those feelings outward. Take control of how you respond to emotions, and do things that lift your spirits. I found it helpful to spend time with people who love me and make me feel good. Other ways to give yourself a boost include:

  • Writing/Journaling – Let your stream of consciousness flow through your pen (or keyboard) so that you can make sense of all your messy thoughts.
  • Exercise – This is the equivalent of meditation for me. I always feel relaxed and uplifted after some exercise, even if it’s just a brisk walk.
  • Take on a craft or project – Focusing intently on something is a great way to redirect yourself and get out of a funk.
  • Music – When all else fails, put on a good beat and sing or dance along! Two of my favorite songs for cheering up are “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves and Mark Anthony’s “Vivir Mi Vida.”

Share Your Feelings

Expressing how you feel to a supportive individual, especially your caregivers, is immensely beneficial. It can help you feel less lonely because you are not dealing with your feelings by yourself. It can also help those around you to better understand what you are going through. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to a friend or family member, now might be the time to join a support group or see a counselor. If you are not ready for that either, writing and journaling can also be helpful here.

Take Care of Yourself First

I know that there is pressure to do the usual holiday “things” such as shopping, cooking, attending and hosting parties, or travelling. If you are undergoing treatment, you may not feel well enough to host or attend gatherings, or you may not be in a financial position to do these things. Cancer care is expensive, and so are the holidays. Also, you may need to avoid crowds due to a compromised immune system.

It is okay to say no or ask for help. People will understand. If they don’t, then they don’t have your best interest in mind. The most important thing is to take care of yourself. Allow yourself a stress-free holiday so you can stay healthy. This doesn’t mean that you have to renounce the holidays. It just means that you should listen to your body and only do what you can without wearing yourself out.

Here are some ideas for scaling back your participation in holiday activities:

  • Accept/seek help. Let others help you decorate, cook, and shop. If you normally host a holiday gathering, consider doing it potluck style or pass the baton and let somebody else take on the hosting.
  • Shop online
  • Make your own gifts to give away. Crafts can be relaxing, and homemade gifts will have personal meaning. This could also be a way to make gift-giving affordable.
  • Pare down your gatherings. If your immune system is compromised, get together with a small group of people who understand your situation and respect your health. This is what I did last year when I was undergoing treatment during the holidays.
  • Reconsider your travel plans. Instead of travelling, think about using Skype or FaceTime to visit with your long distance friends and relatives. If you must travel, check with your doctor first, and remember to carry your insurance cards and prescription medications. If you are travelling to an area where your health insurance doesn’t provide coverage, look into travel insurance. You can find information about travel insurance here and here. Also, identify a cancer care center near the city where you will be staying in case of an emergency.

I hope you find these ideas useful for coping with cancer this holiday season. If you have any other tips you’d like to share, please do so in the comments section.

Wishing you a happy and restful holiday season!


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