The holidays are an exciting time of year. They often include time with family, large meals and many festivities. For those with cancer, and their family and friends, this time of year also can be overwhelming.
“Cancer patients often approach the holidays with a mixture of emotions while trying to live up to the expectation of how the holidays are supposed to make us feel. The more we accept, rather than expect, the more at peace we are with the outcome,” said Holly Fitzgerald, oncology social worker with Marshfield Clinic Health System.
These 10 tips can help you and your loved ones cope with cancer during the holiday season.
1. Slow down
Before the holiday season hits, tell your family how you would like to celebrate. You do not need to worry about decorating the house, baking or buying gifts for all your family and friends. “Determine what activities are most important to you and then modify them to meet your needs. Give yourself permission to do less,” Fitzgerald said. These things are temporary and are not important to celebrating the holidays.
2. Be flexible
Make sure your family understands you may not be able to make it to all the festivities or stay as long as you would like. You will need to keep your schedule flexible as you deal with the side effects of treatments. Build in rest time each day to make sure you do not wear yourself out during this time.
“The holiday season is tiring for anyone, let alone someone going through cancer treatments. Give yourself permission to take a break this year,” Fitzgerald said.
3. Your feelings are important
Going through cancer treatments during the holidays can be emotional. “Things will look different this year and it is normal to grieve and reflect on these changes,” Fitzgerald said.
There is nothing wrong with feeling sad, scared or angry about cancer and its impact on your life. Talk to family members and friends about how you are feeling. This will help them cope as well.
4. Do not keep your family in the dark
Many people make the mistake of waiting until after the holiday season to tell family about their diagnosis. Children and family often come to resent not knowing sooner. Make sure you tell them what is likely to happen and give them updates throughout the process.
“Tell them how you are coping, any physical changes (hair loss), and any modified traditions they will expect this year,” Fitzgerald said.
5. Take care of yourself
It is important that you practice proper self-care. Exercise, enough sleep and proper nutrition can help reduce stress. The holiday season is already difficult for most people, so you will need to make sure to take special care of yourself. This also helps break up the feeling that it is “all cancer, all the time.”
6. Feed your spirit
It is important during this time to keep your spirits high. Spiritual renewal does not require you to be physically energized. Instead, read a book that inspires you, attend a religious service, learn how to meditate or practice mindfulness. Finding spiritual meaning during the holidays is helpful.
7. Enjoy the little moments
The greatest gift we can get during the holiday season is time with family and friends. Take time to recognize and enjoy the little moments that matter most during this holiday season. Bake cookies with your family, share stories about your childhood and enjoy the time you are spending with your family.
8. Be willing to accept help
Family and friends are willing to help you in any way possible, so accept offers of support. They can help with shopping or run some errands for you. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help.
“While undergoing treatments, there are many new things that are added to your plate. Be open and honest with family and friends about what would really help you: food delivery, meal prep, cleaning,” Fitzgerald said.
The following websites are designed for this purpose:
9. Food may not taste the same
When undergoing cancer treatments, food may taste different. Work with your family to incorporate foods that may be easier for you to eat, such as fruits. You also need to take it slow – eating small and frequent meals can help with nausea and vomiting.
10. It is important to have conversations
It can be hard to know what to say when everyone is thinking about cancer. As someone with cancer, know that your family is willing to talk with you about your cancer. They are there to support you in whatever way you need that support – whether you want to talk about your cancer or do not want to talk about it. Your loved ones may not know what to say, but give them time. They care a lot about you.
If cancer is affecting your holiday season, talk to a member of your care team. They may be able to provide you with resources to help you cope during this time.