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What SUPPORT Can Do for Families Coping With Cancer During the Holidays

Mayra D. Sandoval, LMSW, Oncology Nurse Advisor, Blogs, 0 comments
December 20, 2017


Local SUPPORT SidebarThe holiday season brings a wide range of emotions. It is a time when people of many different cultures gather together to create long-lasting memories. However, for families affected by cancer, the traditional holiday spirit may be the furthest thing from their mind.

Many people impacted by cancer have a challenging time accepting their new normal. Life as they know it is changing and celebratory moments can prompt questions they may not have considered: How do I emotionally handle this holiday season while caring for a loved one with cancer? How can I express my own concerns without being perceived as self-centered or insensitive? How can I take care of myself and the person I love? What will my life look like next year?

Identifying these concerns may alleviate the associated stress and provide a sense of calmness while patients and their families cope through the holiday season. A few helpful tips can benefit a loved one during the holidays. I created the acronym SUPPORT to encompass different ways to seek support while being supportive.

Support network. A cancer diagnosis can bring about a wide range of emotions not only for the person affected by cancer but for their loved ones as well. As the holidays symbolically represent a joyful time, coping with challenging life changes and complex decisions is often difficult, which is why a support network can help in dealing with the various stages one experiences as a caregiver. CaringBridge helps you set up a free website to keep loved ones informed and list ways they can help. CancerCare oncology social workers provide counseling to anyone affected by cancer: online, face-to-face, or over the telephone. Oncology social workers can also direct you to more resources that address the concerns of caregivers.

Understand. The concept of understanding stems from being compassionate and thoughtful. Adjusting to change is difficult and especially more so if your loved one is not in the “holiday spirit”; however, having the ability to empathize with that person — being able to better understand what that person is thinking — can be more meaningful than all the external trappings of the holiday season.  Imerman Angels and Cancer Hope Network are organizations that connect you to another caregiver who is dealing with the same cancer. They understand your concerns the best and can help normalize your experience, as well as provide suggestions based on what worked for them.

Practice self-care. The holidays are always a hectic time. Seasonal activities such as decorating, buying presents, and preparing special foods can make taking your loved one to a doctor’s appointment that much more difficult. A caregiver may experience a variety of feelings — sadness, anger, resentment, frustration, and even a loss of hope — under all these demands, which is why self-care is so important. Self-care is defined as identifying your own individual needs and taking steps to meet them. It is also making time to do activities that nurture oneself. Self-care activities can include, but are not limited to, going for a walk, reading a book, exercising, and practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques so that the caregiver can actively take care of others in the process. There is no right or wrong way of defining self-care as long as it involves investing time and energy to engage in care of self.

Prepare questions for healthcare providers. Staying informed creates a smoother transition during the holidays. No matter the diagnosis, stage, or treatment, good communication with the medical team will assist the caregiver throughout the process. Prior to meeting with the medical team, the caregiver and patient can brainstorm about specific medical concerns that might impact their ability to celebrate the holidays. An advantage of doing so utilizes the medical team for suggestions on ways your loved one can more fully participate, whether at home or in the hospital. Caregivers become more secure knowing they have knowledgeable support in the medical staff.

Organize. The holiday season often requires a lot of planning and preparation. As a caregiver, you need to find the right balance of participation in the festivities with continuing to meet the care needs of the patient. Whether organizing a holiday celebration or a family reunion, trying to minimize the usual holiday stressors is important. Allow sufficient time to plan, which might include putting some traditions aside this year. Whatever you decide, give yourself permission to work at your own pace, and in the process, possibly create new traditions for yourself and loved ones.

Respect your loved one’s decisions. This can be tough on the caregiver; however, the patient’s experience is unique to him or her and too many activities can be overwhelming. Talking through your feelings with your loved one will fill the holiday and lasting memories with love and compassion.

Try out new memories. Life as one knows it will not be the same when a loved one is coping with cancer during the holidays; however, caregivers should not be discouraged from being innovative and creating new memories. Including others and remaining respectful of the patient and their current limitations can even help create new traditions. Focusing on the here and now often opens people up to what is most important about holidays: the love and support of family and friends.


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