10 Practical Ways to Cope with Cancer During the Holidays

November 17, 2021
10 Practical Ways to Cope with Cancer During the Holidays

Written by Sarah Flowers

 

For some of us the holidays are a time of wonderful cheer and festivity, particularly in situations where patients have completed treatment and are enjoying a newfound lease on life.  For others, they’re a time of great sadness and complexity as we think back to holidays past, mourn for the holidays we won’t be there for in the future, or meet up with friends and relatives for the first time in the new bodies cancer has given us.  

No matter how you’re feeling, it’s important to give yourself permission to feel cheerful and excited if that’s how the holiday spirit moves you, but also not to blame yourself if you feel sad, alone, overwhelmed, or afraid too.  All of us are fighting a battle, and as we know too well heavy life events don’t take a break for the holidays.  Read on for 10 pro tips from survivors and patients on how to get through the holidays with as little stress as possible while you’re dealing with a cancer diagnosis. 

1. Stay in tune with your feelings. 

 

There is no “right” way to feel about the holidays this year, or any year.  Give yourself permission to feel all your feelings, whether that means hosting an over-the-top celebration or staying home in your PJs. Many people feel it’s helpful to keep a journal or to use a mood tracker during this time, or to plan debriefs with a supportive friend or family on a regular basis so that you can keep yourself honest about how you’re feeling.

2. Don’t blame yourself. 

 

Getting cancer was never your fault, but the holidays can be a time of year where it’s particularly easy to place blame on ourselves or feel guilty for feeling low during the holiday season.  We’re all doing the best we can, so be sure to be kind to yourself during the holiday season and always. 

3. Practice leading conversations about your health where you want them to go. 

 

Particularly if this is your first year diagnosed with cancer or if you’re currently in treatment for a relapse, your physical appearance might have changed since many of your friends and relatives last saw you.   You’ll definitely want to prepare yourself for the inevitable well meaning questions about your health and prognosis by practicing a few one liners ahead of time that will let you change the subject gracefully when you’ve had enough.  “Let’s wait till after the pumpkin pie to talk more about this” or “I’m doing OK, but I’m more interested in catching up with you and the rest of the family today!” both work well in a pinch.

4. Relinquish hope of family members changing into different people.

Fortunately for some, and unfortunately for others, your family members will probably all continue to be the same people as they were prior to your diagnosis.  It’s easy to wish that they would be more supportive or help you more -- especially during the holiday season, but for your own mental health it’s best not to hold out hope that they will transform into the person you need them to be. 

5. Be a participant observer when you are triggered.

It’s highly likely that at some point this holiday season someone will make a well meaning comment that you find highly triggering at a party, family event, or other festivity.  Rather than getting angry in the situation, channel your inner scientist and be a participant observer.  Train yourself to view the situation in the moment from the outside, collecting objective information and data about what odd circumstances might cause a person might ask a rude question like that, for example, rather than responding to it directly with anger or sadness.

6. Outsource as much as you can. 

This is not the time to be Martha Stewart.  Do you usually host the holiday gatherings? This is a great year to see if someone else can host, or whether you have friends or relatives who could help you prepare.  Outsource as much as you can, such as buying a pre-brined turkey, ordering prepared sides, or hiring someone to help with the cleaning if that fits into your budget.

7. Focus on yourself and the things you can control.

The holidays were complicated even before cancer, but particularly post cancer it’s important to focus on the things that are in our control, and not worry about those that are outside of it.  Try not to dwell on questions none of us can answer, and instead focus on trying to get as much joy as you can out of the small things. 

8. Stick to your usual routines. 

As much as you may want to head straight for the eggnog after a stressful family conversation, try your best not to overindulge.  Eat well, hydrate, and get enough sleep during this busy time of year and your physical and mental health will thank you.

9. Start a new tradition. 

Go out to dinner for Thanksgiving instead of cooking at home.  Plan a special movie day that will be distracting for the whole family.  This is a great time to start a new tradition that suits your current physical and mental health needs.  The sky’s the limit, it just might be your first annual time doing something new! 

10. Plan a recovery day into your schedule.

If your work schedule allows you, plan at least one full day a week that is purely a recovery day.  On your recovery day, give yourself a chance not to do any housework, any work for your school or job, or anything else that takes away from your ability to rest your mind and your body.  Especially during what some might call the busiest part of the year, taking time for yourself is especially important.  

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