5 tips to enjoy Christmas during cancer

JoySign
There is joy in every day we’re alive.

Christmas is quickly approaching, as it does every year (my dear mother pointed out to me). I do like the lights, music and fun of this season, even if I never seem ready for the colder temperatures, early dark evenings and busy preparations for the holiday season.

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Christmas was always a special time during my childhood, thanks to my parents. Decorations were throughout the house, festive music played every evening, amazing smells of cookies, breads and other food filled the air, family and friends stopped by regularly for holiday cheer.

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When I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer), I was three months from graduating college. Once cancer treatment started, I moved back in with my parents, who had recently moved into a home our family built together (although I only donated weekends to work as I was away at college).  I was diagnosed in May and started chemotherapy in early June. It lasted about 13 months so treatment covered every holiday and birthday. My chemotherapy treatments were all inpatient, meaning I often spent three out of four weeks a month in the hospital. Due to the scheduling of chemo treatments, my oncologist gave me the option of spending Christmas or New Year’s Day in the hospital. I definitely wanted to be home for Christmas. Being surrounded by family and friends became critical to helping me get through the challenges of cancer.

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Whether you’re in the midst of cancer treatment, facing another health issue, loss of a loved one, or juggling the crazy of everyday life, you can make life enjoyable and festive during the holiday season without frazzling yourself. Let’s face it, we all too often get wrapped up in the hustle of buying presents, cramming as many parties as we can into December and feeling pressure to send cards, bake, decorate and more.

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Here are a few tips that may help you find balance and enjoyment during the holiday season:

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Be flexible. There may be days you wake up not feeling well, or the feeling hits you midway through the day. Or maybe you decide heading out into a snowstorm isn’t worth getting cold and damp. You might have to change or cancel plans. There will always be other opportunities for fun. Your treatment, these challenges, these emotions won’t last forever. Tomorrow is a new day.

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Balance social time and me time. I love to be social, especially since I’ve established a really good group of friends as I’ve gotten older. We have lots of fun and laughs. Surrounding yourself with others who bring cheer to your life is so important. But I also need to balance people time with quiet, me time to recharge myself. That includes reading, writing, riding my bike, meditation, and even laying on the couch daydreaming. This time lets me relax and reflect, and appreciate all that I have in life.

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Do as little or as much as you like. As if I’m not busy enough throughout the year, my schedule seems to double with commitments between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Am I right? And there are still only 24 hours in a day! Contrary to our society, there are no rules that list how many cookies you must bake (none for me), you must send cards to every family member and friend, even if you haven’t talked in years and aren’t sure their new address (I didn’t send cards the past two years!), or decorate every corner of your house (I’m super excited my next door neighbor already strung lights on our shared tree and bushes; less work for me!). When I went through chemo, I exhausted pretty easily. I eventually had to learn to say no thank you to every invitation or task. It’s okay to skip sending cards or shop online rather than running to multiple stores looking for the perfect present. A few years before my dad died, my family started drawing names so we purchased for one person and had a dollar limit. We make it fun by keeping the person a secret until Christmas day when you have to guess who drew your name (and if you’re wrong, you go to the end of the line!). I love having less people to shop for, yet still spending special time together, which is the meaning of Christmas to me.

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Look for resources to support you. There are many great online resources to help with physical and emotional struggles. LIVESTRONG has a helpful Guidebook offering good advice and tips, plus the Journal lets you document questions, feelings, thoughts and more. The Cancer Support Community produces numerous Frankly Speaking About Cancer books on a multitude of topics related to cancer. LiveBetterWith.com shares a wealth of resources, items, knowledge and every day advice for anyone facing any type of cancer. Support groups are also great opportunities to meet others going through similar circumstances. Most importantly, please know it’s okay to say you need support and help with your emotions, thoughts, anything.

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Soak in the beauty of the season. I admit there have been some years that I’m just not into the festivity of the holidays. Even this year, the spirit is alluding me and I’m ready for a new year. And, really, it’s been a good year for me so no clue why I’m feeling blah. I kind of find opportunities to appreciate the festive and pretty season. I think of the phrase, “Fake it until you make it.” Lol Music is always a comforting, guiding factor in my life. I often have something playing in the background at home. I’m putting my Christmas tree up next week just so I can enjoy the glittering, relaxing lights in the dark, cold evenings. When we were younger, my parents drove my sisters and me through neighborhoods looking at pretty Christmas lights. It was meaningful when my parents and I spent an evening doing the same drive when I was going through chemo. I simply remind myself to pause to listen, look and appreciate the moments of being here.

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