7 Tips for Enjoying the Holidays When You Have Cancer

Coping with cancer during the holiday season
mom and daughter holiday shopping online

Contributor: Josette Snyder, RN, MSN, AOCN

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When cancer becomes a part of your life, holiday spirit can be hard to come by.

Our patients sometimes find it difficult to cope with the expectations for themselves, family and friends during this sometimes frantic time of year. Physical and emotional dynamics are changed for you and the people around you when you have cancer, and the holidays tend to accentuate these differences.

7 tips to a better holiday

As cancer nurses, we like to share ideas with our patients and their families on how to make the holidays a bit easier to handle — and retain some of the spirit the season is meant to bring. Here are seven tips we offer cancer patients:

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  1. Adjust your expectations overall for the holidays. First, it’s most important to acknowledge things have changed physically with you in terms of fatigue, discomfort and difficulty getting around. You’re not likely to have the same physical and mental energy you’re used to during this busy time. Give yourself a break by keeping this in mind.
  2. Change your traditions to accommodate your illness. If you’re not up to certain activities, don’t push it. For example: If you’ve always been an extravagant holiday entertainer, don’t put that pressure on yourself when you’re not feeling well. If you do want to entertain, make it easier by having potluck dinners. Don’t hesitate to ask for more help in setting and cleaning up and other chores that need to be done. Or for once, try a great restaurant as the home base for a big holiday meal.
  3. Be innovative with holiday shopping. If one of your great seasonal joys is shopping, preserve your energy by doing more online and catalog shopping rather than trekking all over town —which also may put you at risk from catching a bug from someone in the crowd. If your illness is causing you financial burdens, gift people inexpensively with calls, cards, notes or even emails instead.
  4. Communicate your needs clearly. Be open, and sometimes even assertive, about your feelings. Don’t be afraid to tell family and friends you’re not up to certain activities that may have been part of your normal holiday routines in the past. Be clear about your preferences to friends and family who want to visit. For example, tell people if you’d rather have one or two visitors for a short time, rather than a lot of them all at once. Let them know the best times for you — that time of day you’re feeling your best. But don’t let people who may be “coming down with something” come to see you! You’re at far greater risk of a dangerous infection during cancer treatment. (If you aren’t comfortable being assertive about these needs, delegate someone you trust to deliver the message.)
  5. Take care of yourself physically. Try not to let this slide if possible. Do all those good things we do to take care of ourselves: eat well and exercise in whatever ways you can: walk, move around, stretch, do yoga, whatever you can handle (check with your doctor first). Stay hydrated with non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated drinks. Build in a rest period during the day. Be extra good to your body!
  6. Take care of yourself mentally. Try not to isolate yourself. Make plans to get together with those friends who you can relax around and share some laughs. Plan activities that you love to do, whether it’s going to a movie, a restaurant you’ve always wanted to try, a museum, bowling, a high school ball game — whatever makes you happy. Give yourself a treat to look forward to.
  7. And, a tip for caregivers. As a caregiver you’re under a lot of stress as well. Don’t neglect your own health and mental well-being while caring for a sick friend or loved one — or all of a sudden you have two people who are down. Take care of yourself, too!

So we say: Be good to yourself, and patient with your limitations and with other people’s, too. Try to focus in what’s really most important to you: family, friends and the good things in life.

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