In Joy This Holiday

Cancer patient and caregiver tips for sliding through the holidays

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Cancer is an unwelcome guest any time of the year. During the holidays, that guest could be even more troubling – if you let it.

Even in the healthiest of times, it can be hard to stay in the holiday spirit. Throw cancer onto the heap of emotional drummers and the glow starts to dim a little.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Experts encourage you to feel whatever you feel, take care of yourself, do what you can and leave the rest to Santa and his elves.

Whether you’re living with cancer, caring for someone with cancer, or maybe you’ve lost someone recently, don’t let cancer be the Grinch this holiday season.

The key messages are simple. Give to yourself first this season. Take care of yourself. Eat well. Get plenty of rest. Take it easy. ‘Tis not the season for super-human demonstrations of any kind. And most importantly, have some fun!

Your To Do List

The American Cancer Society has put together a list of dos and don’ts for the holidays. And we’ve thrown in some additional tips from cancer thrivers.

Do feel and express whatever you’re feeling, whether you’re feeling warmth and love or want to crumble in a pile and cry for hours. It’s okay. Joy, fear, sadness, pain – they’re perfectly normal emotions you may want to share with friends and loved ones – or not.

Do be good to yourself. Take care of your needs with healthy foods and some exercise to relieve the tensions.

Do enjoy what you enjoy most. Take a nap in the middle of the day. Excuse yourself for a long, luxurious bath. Have a chocolate-covered cherry or three. Embrace the simple joys of life.

Do get distracted. Go to the movies, out to eat, have friends in, play dominoes or cards, hold hands with someone you love. All of these are good things to keep your mind off your health.

Do a little planning. Celebrate the holidays at whatever level feels right for you. Maybe you’ll want to simplify – get a catered meal instead of fixing one. Or maybe you want to start a new tradition that’s easy on you. Take a moment and decide how you want to spend your time and with whom.

Do ask for help. Let the tribe pitch in to help with some of the details, including decorating, shopping, wrapping, meal planning/shopping/preparation/clean-up. Marvel at how well your elves manage.

Do learn to say “No” without an ounce of guilt. If at any point, you’d like to take a break, then feel free to do so. Maybe some of the events you’ll want to skip. It’s all okay – everyone will totally understand.

Do be yourself at all times.

Your Not To Do List

Some thoughts and activities can be real downers. So here are some things to avoid to keep yourself in a festive spirit.

Don’t surround yourself with unrealistic expectations; keep it simple; focus on what’s important - spending time with those you love.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to make this a special event for others. It's about your joy.

Don’t drink too much alcohol; it’s a depressant and could put a real damper on your mood. Sip lightly.

Don’t overdo it in the presents department. Maybe even decide not to exchange gifts this year, or ask someone to help you with your shopping and wrapping. Savor your present.

Don’t get stressed out about money – you have other things to worry about. Try to put together a budget and stick with it. Keep the change.

Don’t fake it until you make it. You don’t have to pretend to be or try to force yourself to be happy. Just be true to you. Celebrate you this holiday.

Don’t overschedule. Keep your days light on activities and feel free to bow out of anything that you don’t feel like doing. Pamper yourself.

Don’t throw your healthy habits into the fireplace. Try to have some protein and green vegetables along with the sugar cookies and pumpkin pie. Have a sweet time.

What others suggest

The American Cancer Society helped to develop a very cool online community called “WhatNext.” Here survivors can interact with one another and share what’s on their minds.

A special section currently collecting comments is called simply “Cancer and the Holidays.”

A gentleman with lymphoma from Washington, Michigan, says, "Perhaps the best thing to do is to savor this season with friends and family. You may not have another or you may have many more. Celebrate this season with joy. This one, at least, you have."

A lady who calls herself BoiseB was diagnosed with esophageal cancer around Easter. She said, "I found that the Holidays actually helped me through my cancer. I made the Holidays very spiritual. Try to participate in something of a spiritual nature,” she suggests.

Then "Freebird," a gentleman living with pancreatic cancer, is a tad less conventional. "My advice is to break the rules and make your own holiday every day you're alive. Just don't wear those Christmas sweaters whatever you do. I hate those things. Can we have two Halloweens this year instead? Who's in?"

Cancer is an unwelcome guest anytime of the year. But it doesn’t have to be this year. 

Laugh, cry, be merry, be sad – be whatever you want to be. Try to let go of the health burden for just a few hours and enjoy the joy of the season.

From the dailyRx family to yours, here’s wishing you a very Happy Holiday!

Review Date: 
December 18, 2012