Stress and the holiday season go together for many of us. With a full calendar of events, presents to buy, and meals to plan, this time of year is especially daunting even during the best of times. For cancer patients and their caregivers, the holidays can present a range of strong emotions. While the holidays are a season of joy and memory making, all of the shopping, prepping and party-going may feel overwhelming.
What I Learned about Cancer & Holiday Stress
In November 2013, I had surgery for pancreatic cancer. I strategically scheduled my surgery after my daughter’s 16th birthday, but before my dad and my husband’s birthdays and before Thanksgiving. As the mom, the organizer, the present purchaser, and the one who prepares meals, I did not want to ruin the holidays or inconvenience anyone.
While that was a noble goal, the truth of the matter is that cancer impacts everyone in the house. While I could not make everyone, including myself, forget that I had cancer, my diagnosis gave my family a gift. We learned to prioritize what was important to us and to not stress about the other stuff. That was the year that I said NO to sending out holiday cards and relished every moment of watching my kids open their gifts. It was the holiday season where I gave up ideals of perfection and lived in the moment.
‘No Stress’ Holiday Tips For Cancer Patients and Caregivers
Here are a few steps caregivers and patients can take to help manage the holiday madness.
Evaluate: We all have a certain amount of energy and financial capital which we are able to spend. If you are going through tiring and/or expensive treatments, cut back on unnecessary activities and expenditures. Don’t hesitate to simply tell people who you do not feel well enough and/or cannot afford to maintain what you did in previous years.
Prioritize: What aspects of the holiday season are most important to you? Focus on the traditions which mean the most to you and learn to let other less important activities go. Learning to say ‘no’ is the best thing you can do for yourself right now.
Shopping: The internet is truly your best friend. While you are not able to touch and feel each gift prior to purchase, you can shop from the comfort and ease of your bed or couch. Or maybe this will be the year you give gift cards to all. Who doesn’t love a gift card?
Simplify: Again, say no to outings which are not critically important to you. If you typically prepare a large holiday meal, turn it into a potluck event. Or maybe this could be the year you call out for Chinese food on Christmas! A change in plans could make the year even more fun and memorable for all.
Delegate: This is hard for people who have always run the holiday show. However, delegating tasks can take a huge load off your shoulders. Ask people to help with decorating, cooking, cleaning, gift wrapping, etc. People often want to help a cancer patient but they may not know you need. This is the time to give others the gift of helping YOU.
Time: Don’t forget to schedule time for yourself this holiday season. Take time to exercise, relax and spend time socializing with friends.
Self-care: Be gentle with yourself. Take a nap. Get a massage. Go for a walk. It is important to find ways to recharge your own batteries. If you are a caregiver, ask others for help in tending to your loved one so you can get a much-needed break.
Emotions: Allow yourself to experience your full range of emotions. It is normal to feel happiness and joy as well as sadness and anger.
Above all, whether you are a cancer patient, survivor or caregiver, learn what ‘good enough’ means for you. Try to focus on what the season is truly about. Spend time with the people who are most important to you. Soak in every beautiful moment you have with your friends and family. Love is the greatest gift in all of our lives.
Happy Holidays from the Project Purple Family!