Surviving the holidays takes on a whole new meaning when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Sure, you’re happy to be alive, but how are you supposed to bake cookies when you can’t stand the sight of food? Attend the annual holiday party when you’re wrung out from radiation? Go shopping or wrap presents when your hands and feet don’t work because of chemo-induced nerve damage?
“I feel pressure from others and from myself to make Christmas the best for my kids,” said Brandie Langer, a 35-year-old breast cancer survivor and mother of three who went through mastectomy, chemo, radiation and reconstruction three years ago. “People ask me to do things or help out and I love helping, but there’s only so much energy to go around.”
Dr. Karen Syrjala, co-director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Survivorship Program, said one of the biggest challenges for cancer patients and survivors is to think in terms of how the holidays are now as opposed to how they used to be or “should be” in our minds.
“It’s easy to get caught up in that ‘I’ve always done these things’ mindset,” she said. “But survivorship can be an opportunity to rethink your priorities and go forward rather than carrying around the baggage of expectation. It’s a chance to focus on the meaning of the holiday rather than the mass consumption.”
Whether you’re still reeling from a recent diagnosis, currently going through treatment or still trying to adapt to your “new normal,” here are some tips to help you navigate the holidays post-cancer.