Coping with cancer and the holidays

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However, along with good tidings and cheer, the holidays also bring steep expectations, obligations and stress. And this year, we’ve had to cope with the impact of Covid-19 as well. You may be concerned about family living overseas or disappointed that you can’t be with the ones you love these holidays because of restrictions on travel. I know that I will be having a Zoom Christmas with my English family this year — oh, to hug them again!

Of course, if you’re also coping with cancer, getting through this time of year can be even more challenging. Regardless of whether you are still reeling from a recent diagnosis, currently going through treatment or still trying to find ‘your new normal’, you don’t have to choose between decking the halls and coping with cancer. Here are some tips to help you navigate the season.

1. Prioritize

Limit your list of ‘must do’ tasks. In previous years, you may have gladly taken on the responsibility of organising all the festivities for your family. But that was before diagnosis and treatment.

It’s frustrating not being able to do everything you did before, but please don’t beat yourself up about it — your body, brain and budget have been through the mill. Be gentle and kind to yourself.

Write down the things you would like to do during the holidays this year. Then add the things you need to do and think of ways to make them easier on you.

For example, if you are hosting Christmas dinner this year, ask everyone to pitch in to help clean and prepare for the day and bring a plate of food to share. Be specific so you don’t end up with five dishes of potato salad and no pavlova! 

Allow yourself to do less, delegate more, and let people know you may not be up for certain activities.

2. Remember the reason for the season

Take time to reflect on your goals, wishes, hopes and expectations this holiday season and focus on what’s most important to you and your loved ones.

3. Be mindful of activity and sleep

Make time for yourself and keep moving. Sometimes the busyness of the holiday period can interrupt your exercise plans. Don’t let it. Lock it into your calendar and make exercise a priority. Or break it down into five or 10-minute bites throughout the day.

Get your sleep. Lack of sleep can make you cranky, clumsy and far more likely to catch a cold or an infection. Around the holidays there are lots of distractions and sleep maybe one of the first things to be compromised. But you cannot underestimate the importance of good, quality sleep.

4. Keep lines of communication open

It’s important to let your family know your needs and wishes for the holiday season. Otherwise they might assume that because you have cancer you may not be up to celebrating the holidays. Talk to them and say what you want, what you need and how your family and friends can help.

5. Be mindful of the Christmas blues

It’s okay if you don’t feel in the mood or if your holiday is more low-key. You’ve been through a tremendous amount. But I encourage you to get out and experience the things that usually bring you joy. Go to carols in the park or take a drive to check out Christmas lights. Do activities that usually give you a sense of cheer and feel familiar, even if the experience doesn’t quite give you the same feeling as before.

The most important thing? Don’t withdraw from friends or family, no matter how tempting. Instead, call up a cancer buddy and have coffee or schedule a massage with one of our massage therapists. But remember, if you feel this is more than just the holiday blues or the blues go on and on, then seek support! Talk to someone you trust such as your partner, a friend or a trusted medical professional.

Final thoughts

Coping with cancer during the holidays is a challenge, but finding ways to navigate the season on your own terms can help make the most of this special time of year.

This article was written by supportive care nurse Tammy Burgess from the Waikato/Bay of Plenty Division and was first published 10 December 2018.