I know you are feeling overwhelmed right now. You are searching for direction, answers, hope. I am here to help. Each month, I will send you some information and advice to try to make your journey a little more manageable…
Cancer and the Holidays
The holiday season is typically a time of traditions, celebrations, and renewed connections with family and friends. It can also be a challenging time of family obligations and stress.
If you are fighting cancer, the holidays become even more complicated. You may experience a mixture of complex and conflicting emotions, including excitement, sadness, worry, exhaustion, hope, and uncertainty. It can be difficult to balance these complex feelings with the holiday spirit.
Adjusting to a New Season
Amidst the joy and festivity of the holiday season, you may feel different inside. While your loved ones struggle to make the holidays as pleasant as possible for you, you may worry about being a burden, or disappointing them if you don’t share in the expected holiday cheer.
In addition, the effects of cancer and cancer treatment may make you look and feel out of sorts. You may feel self-conscious about your appearance or worried about having the strength and energy to participate in holiday activities. You may also worry that others will treat you differently. Even though you feel like things have changed, you may not want others to dwell on the cancer or take pity on you.
It's normal for people fighting cancer to feel out of step with the rest of the world. The holidays and thoughts of the year ahead can prompt new questions, such as the following:
- How will I take care of holiday preparations and myself at the same time?
- How can I celebrate when I have so many other things on my mind?
- Will I have enough energy to participate in all the holiday activities?
- How will I handle seeing my friends and family?
- How will my friends and family handle seeing me?
- What will my life be like next year?
Finding Your Way to Celebrate
Cancer doesn’t happen to just one person. It happens to family members and friends as well. During the holidays, cancer can challenge each of us in different ways. Therefore, as you cope with cancer this holiday season, communication with your loved ones becomes essential. It is also important to keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays. You need to discover what works best for you.
Tips for Coping with Cancer During the Holidays
Prepare yourself emotionally. The often unrealistic expectations of the holiday season can cause a great deal of stress for anyone, particularly someone dealing with cancer. It is common for new feelings to surface and for emotions to become magnified at this time of year. You may feel a mixture of anticipation, disappointment and apprehension. Preparing yourself for these emotions can help you better deal with them when they arise.
- Keep it simple. If you are in the middle of cancer treatment, many tasks such as cooking, shopping and decorating can become overwhelming. Taking on too much will only make the holidays more stressful. You may find that simpler, smaller gatherings are easier to manage. Also, you should not expect everything to be perfect. When mishaps occur, try to take them in stride. Keeping your expectations realistic and manageable can help reduce stress.
- Don't pressure yourself to prepare a big meal. Instead of cooking an elaborate meal yourself, you can have each family member bring a dish, order food from a restaurant, or ask someone else to host dinner this year. If you do decide to cook, ask for help with the set up and clean up. Relieving yourself of some of the pressures of entertaining will give you more time to relax and enjoy.
- Find different ways to shop. If holiday shopping is a source of stress, then make alternate plans to shop for gifts online, order from catalogs, or give gift certificates. If finances are an issue, know your spending limit, set a budget, and stick to it. Also, keep in mind that heartfelt, homemade gifts are a good way to let someone know you care.
- Pace your activities. Do not feel obligated to participate in every holiday activity. You may decide to decline some invitations so you have energy to enjoy the activities that are most important to you. Also, don’t feel bad about cancelling plans at the last minute, or taking time to yourself if you need it. Your family and friends will certainly understand.
- Know your physical limitations. Be aware of the physical stress that entertaining and travel can put on your body. If you are going out of town to visit relatives or friends, consider staying at a hotel. This may give you more time to relax and also help you feel control over the situation. Pay attention to how much rest you need so you do not overextend yourself.
- Let people help you. In previous years, you may have been the one to do most of the holiday decorating, shopping, cooking, entertaining, etc. Of course, being responsible for all the preparations is physically and emotionally draining. Let your friends and family help you. Since they might not know how, prepare a list of tasks for them to do. Chances are, you will feel relieved and they will feel good about being able to help you.
- Anticipate reactions from others. Cancer can change the way you relate to your loved ones, and the way they relate to you. You may be dealing with side effects from cancer treatment, such as hair loss, weight loss, and other changes to your appearance. If you are worried about how others will react to seeing you, consider writing a letter, sending an e-mail, or calling family members in advance to let them know how you are feeling. This will help reduce some of the awkwardness when you do get together.
- Discover new traditions. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to maintain your old holiday traditions. Plan with your loved ones which traditions to include and which to let go of this year. Most of all, do what is right for you in the here and now. You may rediscover happiness in old and new ways.
- Share your feelings. Expressing your feelings, needs and concerns with others can help reduce the stress of the holidays. Your friends and family may avoid talking with you because they are unsure of what to say or how to treat you. If you don’t want to talk about cancer, let your loved ones know. If you feel a need to cry or get upset, it is okay to do so. Communicating your feelings with others can help you feel less alone and more connected.
- Set goals for the New Year. Your dreams and hopes for the future may be different now. Things that seemed important before can yield new priorities, such as enjoying more time with your friends and family. Work together with your loved ones to make new, short-term goals (e.g., finishing cancer treatment). Re-evaluating your priorities can help improve your outlook.
- Remember the meaning of the holidays. Try not to focus on what may be missing or what is different about this year's holiday season. Try to focus on what the holidays are truly about: a time of sharing with others, being thankful, renewing relationships, and appreciating life.
Caregiving Tips for the Holidays
- Remind your loved one that you care. Your loved one may need extra reassurance that they are still needed and loved. Find gifts that reflect who they are apart from the cancer. Examples include books, art, and music, or tickets to the museum, theater, sporting events, etc. You want to show your loved one that you see him or her as a person, not as a cancer patient.
- Give them space if they need it. Invite your loved one to join in holiday activities, but don't pressure them to be involved in every event. Even if they aren’t up to an activity at first, leave the invitation open in case they decide to participate at the last minute.
- Maintain some normalcy. Your loved one probably wants to celebrate the holidays as normally as possible, without dwelling on cancer. They want to feel that you are with them because you love them and enjoy their company, not because you feel sorry for them.
- Offer to help. Offer to clean the house, do laundry, cook, get groceries, decorate, etc. Give your loved one the opportunity to decide what they want to do, and then help with the rest.
- Just ask. If you aren’t sure how your loved one wants to deal with the holidays this year, just ask. Talk with them about their feelings and share your own. Working together to make decisions about holiday preparations and activities can help each of you feel more connected.
NOTE: THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED NOR IMPLIED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE. ALWAYS SEEK THE ADVICE OF YOUR PHYSICIAN OR OTHER QUALIFIED HEALTHCARE PROVIDER REGARDING YOUR CANCER CARE.
Supporting Patients and Caregivers at CTCA
At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), we recognize the holiday season can be a particularly difficult time. Our multidisciplinary team of cancer experts helps you and your loved ones cope with cancer all year long. As you receive conventional cancer treatments, we try to help improve your quality of life using various complementary medicine therapies and other sources of support, including the following:
- Family Counseling/Support Groups: CTCA provides individual, couple and family counseling, as well as regular support group sessions for patients and caregivers.
- Spiritual Support: CTCA provides spiritual support to families who request it. A member from our pastoral care team will meet with the patient and/or their caregivers individually or together.
- Mind-Body Medicine Offerings: CTCA offers mind-body medicine to patients and caregivers to help address any physical and emotional issues that arise during treatment. Some mind-body techniques include stress management, relaxation, guided imagery training, and laughter therapy.
- Image Enhancement: CTCA provides image enhancement services to help patients look and feel better so they can focus on healing.
- Online Message Board Community: CTCA offers CancerCompass, a unique online community of people who are affected by cancer. With CancerCompass, patients and caregivers have access to a disease and interest-specific message board, where they can share common experiences and support each other during the holidays and all year long.
- Educational Resources: CTCA offers education and practical help to help you manage concerns related to cancer during the holiday season and throughout the year.
At CTCA, we are more than a network of cancer treatment hospitals and facilities. We are your ally against cancer. Using a whole-person approach to cancer treatment, we strive to make you physically, nutritionally, psychologically, and spiritually fit to fight cancer. Here, we fight alongside you every step of the way.
I hope this information has helped you in some way. I will check in with you again next month. In the meantime, stay strong and hopeful.