Navigating the Holidays with Cancer…On Your Terms
The holiday season is a wonderful time of year, when many multicultural and religious holidays are celebrated. During the holidays, friends and family gather to give thanks and share in good cheer as they celebrate the season.
Throughout the rest of the year, there’s nothing else that generates the feeling of warmth and togetherness like the period between Thanksgiving and New Years Day.
But the holidays can bring stress and pressure too, especially for those undergoing cancer treatment. There’s an expectation to see everyone and do everything you normally would do at this time of year. That’s tough when you’re not feeling your best, physically or emotionally.
It’s important to realize that it’s OK if you don’t feel up to it. You should only do what works for you. Regardless, here are some ideas on how to make your holiday easier and more enjoyable, while tending to yourself.
For some, traveling is part of their holiday routine. Packing the car, deciding what to take, making sure you have gifts, and arranging to have other concerns at home taken care of while you’re away can be stressful for anyone.
As a cancer patient, though, your planning must also include precautions concerning your illness. We suggest speaking with your doctor first to make sure you are able to travel. This is especially important if you plan to fly.
Some cancer patients cannot handle flights because of the change in oxygen levels and air pressure in the cabin at high altitudes. The changes in air pressure can often trigger swelling in different parts of the body. High-altitude flying might also cause low oxygen levels in your blood. Sitting for long periods can produce dangerous blood clots.
If you’re traveling by car, the concerns are less. Remember to bring a blanket and pillow with you to help you rest along the way.
Speak with your doctor, advanced practice provider, or nurse navigator about any food restrictions over the holidays. In general, eat what you’re supposed to eat. Eat what tastes good to you. Your body will let you know if you should or shouldn’t eat something. Pay attention to it and you should be fine.
Don’t over eat, either. If you don’t have an appetite, then don’t force yourself to eat. Also, don’t allow others to good-naturedly pressure you into eating. That may be the hardest trick of all. Just let them know that you are following your doctor’s orders. It’ll be hard for them to argue that. Besides, sometimes, cancer treatment can cause foods to taste bad. Don’t be embarrassed. Simply remind your host in advance that, if this occurs, it won’t be a reflection of their cooking skills.
If you are a hosting a gathering, then make sure to find those moments when you can sneak off and rest when you feel the need. Assign a friend or family member ahead of time to help you. If you are visiting someone else’s home, ask in advance if there’s a place where you can lie down. Often, just an hour or so is all you’ll need.
For some, the stress of the holidays coupled with cancer might seem too much. But the spiritual and emotional connections you make should not be overlooked. They can offer the positive impact, and memories, that you need to get through this holiday…and the many more to come.
Of course, we’d like to see all of our cancer patients celebrate the holidays with their loved ones. But only if they’re truly able. And only after having prepared for the realistic amount of time and effort you can spend with them or host them.
Even if your role is limited compared to years past, the holiday season is important to every cancer patient because it gives them the opportunity to reconnect with what is important in their lives; their loved ones. It’s a magical time that can renew your spirit and give you the renewed energy to continue your treatments with the best attitude possible.
Of course, you don’t want to spend the holidays with cancer. But remember, it can’t control how or who you spend your time with this season. If properly prepared and discussed in advance with your doctor, family, and friends, we believe you can enjoy — on your terms — the many emotional and spiritual gifts you deserve this year.