BY KATHY LATOUR | NOVEMBER 6, 2013
I don't know a cancer survivor who doesn't have some kind of issue with the holidays. All the focus on family, faith, fun and the future can wear on people who now may have different relationships with their family, may be suffering a trial of faith, who haven't had fun in a while (unless you consider racing up and down hospital hallways with your IV pole fun), and who no longer can be sure of the future as guaranteed.
There are so many issues with the holidays for cancer survivors that I don't know where to begin. For me November and December became times to remember every family moment and make them the biggest and best ever -- just in case I wasn't going to make it to next year. Since my first holidays came right after I started chemotherapy, I have no memory of them, but I have a feeling I put up a good front since I did the "I am woman and cancer won't keep me down" routine for a few years. I often joke about American women never allowing themselves time to be sick because their identify is tied up in doing Thanksgiving for 30.
I have had other cancer friends tell me they didn't want to see a bunch of family when they knew they would get the looks that bore through your soul as the person said, "HOWWWWW AREE YOOOUUUU??" while looking at you like you might die any minute.
Others talked about family avoiding them, of course, for fear they would get their cooties, and more than one friend said family gatherings were fine until one or more relatives began to weigh in on the cure for cancer that is out there and being kept from us.
Then there are the survivors who are alone during the holidays either because family is too far away to join them or they feel too rotten to even think about getting on a plane and breathing all those re-circulated germs while other passengers stared at them.
Sure, for many people Thanksgiving is just fine because it's one day when everyone eats together, and for some, give thanks that they are alive.
But Thanksgiving is only the warm up for Christmas, which had always been my favorite holiday before cancer added mortality to the day. At my first "Cancer Christmas" with my 1-year-old daughter, I was feeling lousy in the middle of chemotherapy and trying valiantly to buy out the mall so she would have all the gifts of her childhood – in case I died.
The challenge here came when I didn't die and had to outdo the previous year. That lasted for a few years until my emotional state allowed me to enjoy Christmas again – and my bankbook suggested I get reasonable.
If you are facing the holidays this year as a new cancer survivor, here are a few of my suggestions, and I am hoping those who read this will also provide theirs.
1. Let people help. I know, I know, somehow our role in life is connected to healing. There is magic if you can maintain your role whether it be hanging the Christmas lights on the top of your pitched roof or making your grandmother's signature cranberry relish that requires six hours in the kitchen.
2. Lower everyone's expectations (read teenagers) about Christmas this year because cancer has created a fatigue so strong all mom or dad wants to do is lie on the couch. For younger children let them know that there will still be Christmas, but it will be different.
3. Feel what you are feeling. I think the best thing a therapist said to me was "feelings are not right or wrong, they are just feelings, and if you are having them they are legitimate." OK, this may not be the most comfortable holiday season for some people, but come on, you're dealing with cancer so you get to do whatever you want.
4. Establish some new traditions to create a "this year forward" approach to the new holidays.
5. Give yourself the best present of all. Enjoy whatever the season brings.RELATED POSTS