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Managing Holiday Stressors for Cancer Patients

By Charlie Adams, MA, LMFT

For those with cancer, the holidays can be especially difficult.

Here we are again at another holiday season, and whether you observe religious or spiritual traditions or take part in a more cultural expression of the holiday spirit, it is time to prepare yourself emotionally for what that means as you navigate your cancer treatment at this emotionally charged time of year.

Between the planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning and decorating, it might be a good idea to take a step back now and decide how you want your holiday experience to look. Taking steps to create a manageable vision to keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed, which so many people experience at this time of year, may save you from stressors that can lead to increased depression and anxiety.

Having a clear understanding of what you are going through—whether it be changing family dynamics, historical expectations of past holiday events, or additional financial burdens brought on by your cancer treatment—and taking a realistic assessment of your abilities is a good place to start.

Communicate your concerns to loved ones early and discuss your expectations while acknowledging that the holiday planning may look a little different this year. Invite family and friends to help with planning and contribute their time and skills to the success of your events. Ask for help with cooking, cleaning and decorating. Traditions can be changed to accommodate your current abilities. What alternatives are available to you that would meet your own and your loved ones’ expectations?

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 good to validate your own experience and where you are right now in your cancer journey and use that self-awareness in your planning process. Be mindful of the pitfalls: not getting enough sleep, foods that may negatively impact your energy level and stamina, alcohol intake, and insufficient amounts of water. Do remember to put yourself first.

In summary, create a plan you can realistically see yourself orchestrating, leave your options open, and say YES to help! Surround yourself with good support from loved ones, decide what parts of your holiday planning are most important to you, and do your best to enjoy the moments as they unfold.

Editor’s note: More for those supporting cancer patients and survivors from Shay Moraga on page 14.

Charlie Adams, MA, LMFT, is the program director at CancerPartners, the local non-profit offering emotional, social and educational support to all those in the Coachella Valley touched by cancer. He can be reached at (760) 770.5678 or cadams@cancerpartners.org. More information about no-cost support groups and healthy lifestyle classes is also available at
www.cancerpartners.org.

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