Well, it’s already the day after Christmas, Chanukah is in full swing and I’m just now getting around to thinking about posting something about how to navigate the holiday season when you’re dealing with cancer. Better late than never, I guess!
The holidays can be a difficult period for those struggling with any kind of illness, loss, or other major life transition. If you don’t feel like celebrating this holiday season, give yourself a break and show yourself some love. I know, I know, you’re thinking “Oh sure, like that’s gonna’ happen!” It’s true that if you have young kids and you’re taking care of a spouse or other loved one with cancer, it may be almost impossible to carve out some time for yourself, but try! Even five minutes a day can make a difference. Find some extra time for yourself during the busy holiday season by simplifying and delegating your holiday tasks.
Real tip #1: Make time for yourself during the holidays. Simplify. Delegate. Indulge.
Here are some of the ways we avoided the holiday madness last year when J was going through chemo:
1-Forgo long road trips or plane rides to see extended family. Try to convince family members to visit you instead if you’re up to it. This is the biggest time saver of all. No packing your bags, no loading and unloading the car multiple times, fewer major disruptions of your schedule, and more!
2-Display only half of your Christmas decorations. Choose carefully the ones you love the most and you won’t miss the other half!
3-Skip the elaborate Christmas dinner and go for a simple meal that everyone helps prepare.
4-Treat each other to shared experiences instead of gifts. This is a two for one–you have something to look forward to post-treatment AND you avoid shopping!
5-If you do purchase gifts, do as much online shopping as possible (especially if your immune system is compromised).
6-Buy a smaller live Christmas tree or try an artificial tree this year.
7-Ask for help from friends with pulling things out of the attic, putting lights on the tree, cutting greenery, standing in line at the post office, going to the grocery store for you, making a dish for your Christmas dinner, taking your young child on an excursion, wrapping presents, baking sugar cookies or Gingerbread People, etc. Remember, your friends want to help, they just don’t know how. Help them by offering specific suggestions.
Real tip #2: Remember your friends want to help. Assign them tasks if they offer to help!
8-Keep your diet healthy. A few treats now and then are okay, but don’t over-indulge. Stay on your healthy anti-cancer regimen as much as possible–you know you’ll feel better and stay healthier, right?
9-Get a good night’s sleep. That keeps everyone happier and healthier–always, but especially during cancer treatments and other times of emotional and physical upheaval.
10-Keep your routine as regular as possible. This helps you, your children and everyone stay focused, cheerful, rested, and as healthy as possible. This may mean skipping some of the holiday parties this year. Know when to say “no” (See post on Setting Boundaries). We found that when we streamlined our holiday to-do list, we had more time to relax, sleep, talk or video chat with family and friends and take care of ourselves in general.
Real tip #3: Try to maintain your and your family’s schedule as much as possible, particularly meals and bedtimes. Fit in some fun when you can, but try not to overdo it.
Breathe. Stretch. Focus. Meditate. Pray. Watch an old favorite Christmas movie. Listen to holiday music at home. Simmer hot apple cider and cinnamon on your stove and breathe in the smells of Christmas. Light the Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanza candles. Pray for the world and life you desire.
5, 10, 15, 20 minutes free during the holiday rush? Try this!
Pull out your yoga mat. Stretch. Do the moves that relax you the most. There are loads of online videos you can watch to help you gain flexibility, strength and mindfulness. Find ones that work for you. Breathe. Listen to soothing music while you stretch.
Put on your favorite holiday music and dance around the house. You can even dust or tidy up while you go!
Sit quietly and read a favorite poem or holiday book to yourself or to your child.
Take a 20 minute soak in an Epsom salt bath diffused with lavender or your favorite essential oil. I use DoTerra Essential Oils (Certified Pure Grade Therapeutic), but there are other good brands, too! (see Other Resources Page)
Apply a special face mask to help detoxify your skin and relax you. Leave on for 5-20 minutes. My newest favorite face mask contains bentonite clay, activate charcoal and manuka honey.(See Recipes Page)
Take a nap!
Hug your loved ones!
Have a little more free time? Try these!
Call your mom!
Attend a service at your church or temple. Many churches have special Healing and Wholeness Services around Winter Solstice. Check your local listings.
Watch your favorite old movies.
Watch old videos of your life or your child’s life with a loved one. Laugh over the shared memories.
Get a massage. If a massage doesn’t fit into your budget or schedule, try working with a tennis or lacrosse ball. Lie on your back with the tennis ball under your back and roll back and forth. This can help relieve tension in your back and shoulders.
Bundle up and go for a walk with a friend.
Take a longer nap! Snuggle with your pet, your child, or your loved one.
Decorate sugar cookies. You know, the ones you asked a friend to bake for you!
Soak your feet in a warm Epsom Salt foot bath while you watch a favorite holiday movie or listen to holiday music.
Even if you try all of this, you still may not feel the holiday spirit. That’s okay. Give yourself permission to be sad. Pretending to be happy when you’re actually sad is not the healthiest way to deal with your emotions. Emotions have a way of catching up with you sooner or later even if you try to push them down. That’s my experience anyway. Better to go ahead and let yourself feel the weight of your despair, have a good cry, talk to a trusted friend, minister or therapist, than it is to ignore your true feelings. Everyone has to fake it sometime, especially when you’re the caretaker of a cancer patient and you have young children, but make an effort to find some time for yourself so that you can acknowledge your emotions and make a plan to deal with them.
Real tip #4: During the holidays, you may need more comfort than joy. Maybe you’re mourning a loved one or family traditions, or maybe you’re just plain fearful for the future. Give yourself a break and allow yourself to feel sad. It’ll make it easier to feel happier again if you acknowledge the difficult losses in your life.
(Here’s J on Christmas morning in 2015. He was halfway through his chemo treatments. The pound of dark chocolate was a special treat from Santa that made him smile extra big!)