For many, the holidays mean food and fun with friends and family. But for us cancer patients and survivors, the holidays mean the stress that comes with dealing with all those things.
During my sarcoma treatment, I had to go out of my way to avoid small children and anyone who looked like they might have a cold at holiday events. Even now that I've completed sarcoma treatment, I have to avoid a long list of vegetables and all dairy products.
But along the way I've learned how to get by during the holidays. Here are my tips for cancer patients and survivors on staying healthy during the holidays. Try them, and you might start some fun new traditions at the same time.
1. Ask your health care team for advice. Your medical team will be able to guide you when it comes to what you have to drop completely and what you can have "just a little of." If you're on a special diet, ask about alternatives. I was told to try tofurkey instead of a regular turkey so I could avoid some of the ingredients commonly added to turkey. It worked for me, and I don't have to worry about offending anyone.
2. Talk to someone. It's not uncommon for cancer patients and survivors to feel lost and alone when surrounded by the happiness of the holidays. We all have moments when we feel disconnected from the rest of our family in our new, modified lives. If you don't feel comfortable talking with your caregivers, try calling the Anderson Network, MD Anderson's one-on-one support group for cancer patients and caregivers. They'll connect you with another patient with a similar diagnosis, treatment or experience.
Having someone I can talk to who is completely non-judgmental has helped me stay as upbeat as possible, and the Anderson Network volunteers Network have helped me to phrase things for family members who've had difficulty understanding why I don't participate in the same activities as everyone else.
3. Plan your celebration. Make sure your family and friends understand that you will do what you can to participate in their gatherings. Don't feel shy about bringing your own food or party favors. I make sure to bring a dessert and a main dish to every get-together we attend, along with some cards and games. That way, I know there will be a few things I know I can enjoy. And usually the host appreciates my contributions.
4. Be honest with yourself. You are not the same person you were before cancer treatment, so you shouldn't expect other people not to notice a difference in you. I have only recently begun to regain some of my physical strength, and my immune system is still not what it used to be. I have to be careful not to push myself too hard or I might not be able to attend the next party.
It can be hard to take that much needed break or to leave a party early, but it's important to do what you need to do to make certain that you continue to heal. I often take naps at day-long family gatherings, just so I will be able to spend time with everyone, even the late arrivals.
Many people don't know what to say or do around people who have or have had cancer, so it's best to let the holidays serve as a means to let them learn that you are still you, if maybe a little changed. Remember, you aren't your cancer. Let the holidays be a chance to show everyone what still matters most: family, friends and celebrating the holidays with people you love and who love you.