Celebrating the holidays during cancer treatment: How to find joy
Pamela Schlembach, M.D.
Between all of the decorating, baking, cooking, parties, shopping and events, the holiday season can be stressful. And, adding cancer treatment into the mix may bring another layer of stress that can cause exhaustion and even depression. That’s why I encourage my patients at MD Anderson in The Woodlands to reset their priorities and let others help out during the holiday season.
Here’s what I tell them.
I start by asking my patients three questions:
What is a must for you to do this holiday season?
What do you enjoy most during the holiday season?
What do you realistically feel you can do?
Then I ask them to prioritize based on this list and find other ways to accomplish the things that matter most to them.
Here are my suggestions.
Decorating: Try to limit the amount you decorate to only the essentials, like a wreath, a small pre-lit tree and a few candles. If more extensive decorating is at the top of your list, invite friends and family over, turn on music, sit in a chair and direct traffic as they decorate for you.
Baking: Buy your sweets from a bakery, or ask for homemade baked goods as gifts.
Parties and events: Attend only the parties and events you really enjoy and have an exit strategy in case fatigue sets in.
Gifts: Consider skipping the malls and shop online instead. Gift cards are also a good hassle-free option.
Greeting cards: Opt for an email with a favorite photo or share a greeting on social media or via text message.
Family functions: Assuming your family knows you are undergoing cancer treatment, I hope they’ll be understanding. Just showing up to events is usually more than enough. If you must bring something, ask to simple items, such as drinks, ice, rolls or paper products.
Take care of yourself: Get into the holiday spirit at your own pace, such as driving around with loved ones to see holiday lights, listening to holiday music or watching holiday movies at home.
Connect with others: Most of my patients say this brings them the most joy. Find a way to connect more with others. It may be with a big group or in small gatherings. It could be sharing dessert, coffee or watching a movie with your loved ones.
Charity: Helping others is a good way to take your mind off your diagnosis briefly and get into the spirit of giving. If you're not able to work in a soup kitchen, hand out toys, wrap gifts for the elderly or volunteer at events, consider making a donation to your favorite charity.
Worship: This is a special time of spiritual celebration for many people. If you're well enough, plan to attend your place of worship, but leave early if you feel fatigued.
Enjoy the season
The goal is to enjoy the holiday season. So say yes to all the things that bring you joy. Don’t be afraid to turn down tasks that will bring you stress, even if it means sitting on the sidelines for every one of them.
And remember all of those friends who’ve offered to help out? They mean it! Let them know when you need something.
After all, enjoying peace is what the holiday season is really all about.