The Holiday Season brings with it immeasurable and inescapable cheer. The last heat wave of Summer barely graced us before tidings of tinsel, flocked trees, and icicle lights stocked the store shelves. Around every corner is yet another reminder that the holidays are upon us, and with that reminder comes an implicit message that they should be filled with family, joy, and peace. And while that image sounds ideal, the holidays can, in truth, represent a season of conflict, hardship, and ambiguity amidst the cheer. And when mixed feelings exist in a winter wonderland of cloying happiness, those feelings are often exacerbated, making the sadness even sadder and the loneliness even lonelier. And cancer can be that unwelcome guest at the Christmas dinner table, piercing through an otherwise peaceful season with feelings of apprehension, anger, grief, tenderness, fear, and everything in between. Cancer can disrupt family holiday traditions, impact finances, and shift dynamics in the roles that people play in their family’s holiday celebrations. It may leave caregivers and well-intentioned family members baffled as to how to interact with and support their loved one during this festive season. And while there is no road-map to eradicate the emotional roller-coaster that the holiday season can present, we offer a few tips that may help alleviate some stress, provide room to be genuine about your feelings, and embrace the holiday season for all that it may be: the bad, the ugly, the surprising, and the beautiful.
First and foremost, allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to feel happy, sad, confused, excited, scared, and joyful. The more we avoid our feelings, the more that they can overwhelm us. Though we may try, we can never outrun the way that we are feeling. And feelings in and of themselves are not bad, wrong, or permanent; they are simply a wave that will ebb and flow. So allow yourself to feel sad, because that sadness will inevitably clear the way for other more peaceful feelings to occupy its space.
Holidays are often characterized by traditions, and with those traditions come expectations. Perhaps you were always the family member responsible for hosting the family, or baking the apple pies, or buying the mountain of presents, or directing the cleanup crew following Christmas dinner. Hence our next tip: contemplate. Check in with yourself to assess whether you want and are able to fulfill everything that you historically do during the holidays. Maybe maintaining the traditions that you normally do is of utmost importance to you, or maybe this year you want to change things up. Maybe you need to give some thought to where and with whom you want to spend time with during the holidays. This process of contemplation may sound like a daunting task, but taking the extra time to prepare for the holiday you want will relieve your future self of undue stress.
Remember the holidays are not just about giving, but also receiving. Asking for help, space, time, and understanding are all appropriate items on your holiday wish-list. Chances are you have never hesitated to help a family member or friend in need- maybe it’s now your turn to ask for help. Maybe you need help with cooking or cleaning in advance of your holiday gathering, or you need help organizing your coat closet, or shopping for presents… No matter what the request may be, those close to you will be more than willing to help.
4. Set Realistic Expectations
While it is a major feat for Santa to scale the chimneys of families worldwide all within a matter of one night, we cannot all be Santa. We cannot expect ourselves to perform to ridiculously high holiday standards on top of the things we ordinarily do on top of life stressors on top of a cancer diagnosis. When we set expectations that exceed our physical and mental abilities, we set ourselves up for failure at the very worst, and one heck of an unpleasant and stressful holiday season at the very least. Setting realistic expectations does not mean that you are throwing in the towel. Rather, it means that you are taking a look at your goals and taking inventory of your resources to achieve those goals. Make a list of your priorities and evaluate how you will work towards those priorities (i.e. axing some items off the to-do list, enlisting friends and family for support, scheduling in appropriate time for rest, etc).
And for the family members out there: listen. Listen to your loved one talk about their experience with cancer, and listen to them when they want to talk about Aunt Marge’s green bean casserole. Be present with them in providing space for them to talk about their health or to not talk about their health. Also, allow them to contribute. Be attuned to their wishes and needs, which may include keeping with their usual duties and roles or changing things up a bit. Holiday traditions can be very meaningful and important, and sparing your loved ones of the duty to contribute in the way that they normally do or want to do may rob them of the joy that characterizes this season.
Above all, be present with your family and loved ones. The fragility of life becomes evident when it is threatened by a disease like cancer, which inevitably provides perspective on the things that matter most. All of us at CSC wish you a peaceful and meaningful holiday season.
Cancer During the Holidays. (2014, November 24). Retrieved December 06, 2017, from https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/cancer-during-the-holidays.html
Coping with Cancer at the Holidays. (2010, December 13). Retrieved December 06, 2017, from http://www.massgeneral.org/cancer/about/newsarticle.aspx?id=2479