The holiday season is a joyous time for many, but it can present new challenges for those who are coping with cancer. Traditions may not feel the same as before and feeling sick may keep you from participating in the usual festivities. The holidays can be stressful for anyone, but may trigger feelings of sadness or loneliness in those living with cancer. These feelings are normal and understandable, but they don’t have to ruin the holidays. Hopefully with these tips and a little resilience, you can navigate the holiday season with your loved ones.
1. Allow Yourself to Experience a Range of Emotions
Living with cancer is a rollercoaster of emotions, and these don’t disappear during the holidays. It is important to allow yourself to feel any fear, stress, anxiety, depression, or even grief that may surface. Some people think back to their life before cancer and mourn that time. Others may experience guilt about letting loved ones down due to physical limitations. Rather than pushing these emotions to the side, acknowledge them and give yourself grace.
To combat the negative emotions, use mindfulness practices to appreciate the positives. For example, a gratitude journal is a great tool to remind yourself of the good things in your life. Starting or ending each day by writing down three things you are grateful for can boost your mental health. Studies show that focusing on gratitude can increase enthusiasm, optimism, and connectedness to others and may even improve sleep quality.
If you notice your mental health worsening during the holidays, reach out to your healthcare team for support and resources that can help.1
2. Make Time for Joy
The numerous doctor appointments, scans, tests, treatments, and recovery days can take up a lot of time, even during the holiday season. To help enjoy the holidays, it’s important to be intentional about making time for joy whenever you feel up to it. Enjoying the little things such as quality time with family or the peace of sitting by a fire with a book and a cup of tea can make a huge difference. If you are far from family or taking extra precautions for your health, a phone call or FaceTime goes a long way. Enjoy your favorite movies or music for an easy way to make your day special.
3. Avoid Overexerting Yourself
Many people have holiday traditions that can take up a lot of energy. Living with cancer can be tiring, and many people deal with fatigue or difficulty sleeping that can lead to low energy levels. Your loved ones will be happy to make accommodations so you can avoid overexerting yourself and enjoy the holiday season with them. Maybe instead of a rousing game of flag football, you can have a family game night, and instead of participating in that present-wrapping marathon, you can volunteer to judge the prettiest packages contest. Take time to rest to ensure you can be present for the activities you choose to participate in. This means carefully planning and knowing your limitations.
4. Communicate Your Needs
If you plan to spend some of the holiday season with friends or family, it can be helpful to communicate your needs with them ahead of time. Things may look different this year due to the challenges of living with cancer, and your loved ones may not be aware of your limitations. Be clear and proactive so you can participate as much as possible and allow your friends and family the opportunity to be there for you.
If you are avoiding alcohol or abiding by a special diet, let your loved ones know so they can accommodate you or give you a heads up about their menu. If you are unable to travel long distances or need to be near a restroom, don’t be afraid to tell loved ones about your needs so everyone can adapt their celebrations to best include you.
It’s normal for friends and family to be concerned about you and your health. However, if what you need is some “cancer-free” time, it may be helpful to let your loved ones know that you do not want to talk about cancer or cancer-related topics. You may also want to consider what you are comfortable sharing and what you would prefer to keep private. Loved ones want to help but may not know how, so communicate your needs to help keep everyone on the same page.
Everyone deserves a reprieve from the day-to-day challenges of life with cancer, and these tips for navigating the holiday season can help you make the most out of this time of year.