BLOG: Coping with cancer during the holidays

BLOG: Coping with cancer during the holidays

Brenda Hartman is a 24-year, Stage IV ovarian cancer survivor. She is also a clinical social worker who provides counseling services to oncology patients and their families. In this week’s Teal Together blog post, Brenda offers up some thoughts on how to de-stress the holidays when coping with cancer.  

The joys of the holidays sometimes come wrapped with a “bow” of stress.  Especially when one also has the “package” of cancer.  I’d like to offer a few strategies you might consider to take off the stress “bow” of cancer.

A common stressor to everyone this time of year is the problem of having too many things to do – yet not enough time to enjoy them all.  One strategy is to be mindful of your energy levels. Trying to do too much while exhausted all the time is no fun.  Instead, think about all your choices, and carefully select fewer of them so you can truly enjoy the things you choose to participate in.

Resting – or what I call “healing time” – is critical to include in your planning of each day.  Especially as you get farther into the holiday season.  Take time to rest, because it is healing for your body and mind to re-energize.  Then you’ll be able to enjoy the events and people as you celebrate.

Have a plan before each event with family or friends regarding if you are going to discuss your cancer experience and, if so, what and how much you will disclose.  Go to events knowing people may ask, because they care about you.  If the questions start to feel overwhelming, be ready to say something like, “Enough about me, how are you?”  Your family and friends will then understand it is time to move to another topic.

If you don’t want to talk about your cancer during holiday events (which is a fine choice, too) be prepared to say something like “Today I am celebrating the holidays.  Let’s discuss that another time.”

Lastly – the topic of shopping, cooking, and gift giving is a big one during the holidays.  Many people during and after treatment just don’t have the stamina or interest.  Consider giving “coupons” for a time together. Or suggest a hiatus on gift giving (except for the little ones) and focus on being together.

Whatever your stressors have been in the past, cancer will increase the stress. Allow yourself to cut back on the stressful parts and immerse yourself in the joyful aspects so you may have one of your most memorable holiday seasons.

Blessing to you and your loved ones.

Brenda Hartman, MSW, LICSW