While the holidays can be a time to enjoy with friends, family, and loved ones, the season can quickly turn from happy to stressful for someone with breast cancer. This time of year can be difficult for many people, and some may feel depressed, overwhelmed, or disconnected. Even during “happy” times like the holidays, facing a serious illness like breast cancer can change your priorities, viewpoints, and even your energy and mood. If you’re currently grieving over losses or getting frustrated and disappointed over your diagnosis, here’s how you can start coping with breast cancer during the holidays.

From Linda Carey, Co-Founder of The Tutu Project

In the dwindling days of December, I received two breast cancer diagnoses, three years apart, and I’ve been ambivalent about celebrating the holidays since. It took years to grasp that this stemmed from the impact of the diagnoses and explained my reluctance to decorate my home, shop for gifts, or my rash of annoyance hearing Christmas carols in stores. Perhaps some of this was masked by my need to always be strong and powerful through all things breast cancer; it’s the self-imposed pressure and expectation I have of myself.

 

Managing the holidays has become an exercise in balance. A sage woman once told me that “every year is different,” which is my mantra for December. I acknowledge my sadness, my unexplained anxieties, and the melancholy that often washes over me. I don’t make myself wrong. Nature is a source of healing, and I get outside as much as possible, making deep breathing part of my ritual. I relish the moments with my family and friends and offer myself compassion.

Coping With A Loved One Having Breast Cancer During The Holidays

Before we dive into how to cope with breast cancer as a patient, there are a few important notes for family and friends.

It’s critical that you pay attention, show your loved one respect, and acknowledge their needs at this time of year. Let them be them, as they are. Also, ensure that your friend or loved one is aware that they are free to express their feelings and desires to you. If at all possible, let them set the tone for the holiday and let them know you are here for them. Attempt to feel comfortable in silence as well. A sympathetic ear is sometimes just what someone needs, especially during such a special time of the year.

Dos and Don’ts For Coping With Breast Cancer During The Holidays

Okay, now let’s dive into what you can do and what not to do when coping with breast cancer this holiday season.

Do: Make Simple Plans With Loved Ones

First, making simple plans with loved ones can be extremely helpful in enjoying the holidays while also coping with breast cancer. Think about the parts of Christmas that you might find challenging and prepare ahead of time for the things that will make you feel better, and don’t be afraid to cut out plans that seem to be “too much”.

Don’t: Overcrowd Your Schedule

Remember, it’s okay to say no to certain plans, especially if they will hinder you in any way. For example, if you’re currently in treatment, walking around a tree farm may be too much. Instead, make a plan to help decorate the tree or make an ornament or two. But don’t think you have to spend all of your time crowding your calendar.

On that note, you can also determine which chores — like cooking, entertaining, and shopping — can be stressful and make a plan to reduce them. Could you order takeout? Can you buy gifts online? Can someone else host this year? Make a list of the most crucial tasks and circumstances, prioritize them, and pick what works best for you.

Do: Ask For Support

Before Christmas, there’s usually a frenzy of food shopping, wrapping presents, decorating, and extra chores around the house. Because of the holidays, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, especially if you’re in treatment. So now is the right time to ask for help from people, especially if they’ve offered in the past!

For example, if preparing dinner, hosting, or shopping all day is something you put together, see if loved ones would be open to a potluck or see if someone else can host. You can also call friends and family on your support list to ask them to help you with cleaning, preparation, gift-wrapping, decorating, and more!

Don’t: Feel Like You Have To Do Everything Alone

It’s easy to feel afraid to ask for help. No one wants to feel like a burden. But that doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone. If someone loves you and cares for you, they’ll understand your need for help, and they won’t judge you for it. So don’t feel like you have to do everything alone.

Do: Start A New Tradition

Discuss the upcoming holiday season with your family and let them know what you will and will not be able to attend. And if there’s something that you used to do but will no longer be able to, talk about that too. Don’t be afraid to plan ahead and try a new tradition. For example, can you skip holiday cards and have a face time chat? Can you skip hosting but hold a cookie party where everyone brings a different cookie? Can you have secret Santa instead of everyone buying gifts for each other? There are many things you can do instead of the same traditions each year!

Don’t: Blame Yourself If You Can’t Keep Traditions

It’s totally acceptable to decline traditions, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t keep up with certain tasks and to-do’s this year, or even in the future. If you lack the energy to visit or attend an event, ask family and friends to send you a personal note or arrange a video chat so you can still be a part of the festivities.

Do: Practice Self-Care

Taking care of yourself is crucial to preserving your wellbeing and controlling potential stress. Make time in your schedule for your self-care pursuits. Also, set aside time every day to unwind, and remember to eat as many balanced meals as you can. Also, schedule some light exercise each day. It doesn’t have to be too much, but a simple walk around the block, or even just getting up and doing a little dance, can help you feel much better.

You can also find rewarding activities that help you feel good about yourself. Getting a massage, painting with a loved one, or even just skipping extra chores in order to rest is totally okay!

Don’t: Focus On Perfectionism

Anxiety about having a “perfect Christmas/holiday” can easily lead to stress and exhaustion. Instead, appreciate the flaws and look for the funny in situations where things don’t go as planned. Remember, you’re not at fault for circumstances beyond your control. Instead of focusing on things you can’t actively control, be aware of your self-blaming thoughts, and work through them. This can be hard for some, so don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional if needed. The difficulties of having breast cancer are not something you can escape during the holidays. So why work against yourself?

Do: Set Firm Boundaries

You may eventually bring up the topic of your diagnosis and treatment when you see friends and family. If you do, keep in mind that telling someone that you don’t want to talk about your cancer is totally acceptable. It can be beneficial to prepare your answers to these questions in advance. You’re allowed to say what you want, but you also don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. It’s all up to you. But setting those firm boundaries can aid in your self-care efforts, as well as help you feel better about what you’re doing and being in the moment.

Don’t: Shy Away From Your Feelings

Last but not least, don’t shy away from your feelings this season. Having breast cancer sucks. It’s okay to be angry, hurt, or scared about your diagnosis. No one blames you, and no one believes you can’t have feelings about it.

There are a lot of expectations around Christmas, and sometimes these expectations aren’t met by reality. It’s okay. Allow yourself to experience all of your feelings, and even grieve if you need to. Your emotions are real and legitimate, even if they don’t match what other people think you should be feeling.

Also, be honest about your needs and expectations for the holiday with loved ones. It is a waste of precious energy to hope that your spouse, family, kids, or friends will do something, or behave in a certain way, because you truly need or want them to. Expressing what you need is more effective and likely to produce any desired outcomes. Each of us copes differently and has different needs for the kind of support we would like to receive. Only by communicating your needs will friends and family be able to provide you with the best possible support.

Coping With Breast Cancer During The Holidays Wrap Up

Following your diagnosis of breast cancer, you might be feeling a wide range of emotions. That is normal, and you’re not alone. The most crucial thing right now is that you receive the love and support you require to get through this time. Also, keep in mind that each person receiving a breast cancer diagnosis will respond differently and have special coping mechanisms for handling the news. No matter how you choose to cope, or celebrate during the holidays while in treatment, that’s okay.

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