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How I Cope with Cancer during the Holidays

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On Monday December 7, we hosted a webcast Coping with Cancer during the Holidays. During the webcast, Holly Benson was one of our speakers and shared how she coped with cancer after being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012. After 33 days of radiation and chemotherapy, Holly received a clean report from her doctors. But just a few months later, tests revealed that the cancer had not only returned to her lungs, it had spread to her brain, spine and liver. She was given four months to live.

Here are some of Holly’s tips and strategies from her own experience for coping with cancer during the holidays, in her own words.

“Adjust your expectations – understand your limitations.  Learn to say ‘No – thank you’”



Managing the Social Invitations and Traditions

•    Restrict your attendance to a few special events; consider attending for a shortened period of time [conserve your strength]. Avoid travel which can be exhausting and unpredictable. Do the one or two things that really matter and will sustain you [church? Touring the light displays? Carol singing?]
•    Do NOT offer to host!! Despite the pressure that others may exert. 
•    If you’re immune-compromised, avoid large gatherings [like shopping malls or parties] and remember to sanitize hands and avoid kissing! [despite the mistletoe]
•    Buy don’t bake [unless it brings you joy].  [Favourite bakery or Costco!]  Or ask your best friends. My first year, a couple of dear friends provided boxes of home made cookies!
•    Limit your alcohol intake.  Keep up your water consumption, decaf tea is lovely.
•    Holiday cards – write short messages or one collective one to enclose in greeting cards. Only send to people you won’t actually see in person.  Or Send e-cards – everyone will understand.
•    Minimize your decorating to those items that really bring you cheer – you really can get by without opening every box of holiday décor!  Get a smaller tree.  Have your family decorate this year – it may not be up to your style standards, but it will be interesting and they’ll appreciate helping.

Shopping and Gifts

•    This is the year to shop on-line.  
•    Or make a list and ask a relative or friend to give you the gift of an afternoon to do your shopping.  
•    Have a family member – or a local creative neighbour – wrap your gifts for you.  
•    Gift cards are easy, and especially excusable this year.
•    Make a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society on behalf of friends or family as a thank you if they’ve been especially helpful to you during treatment

Taking Care of Yourself

No one knows your energy level or state of well-being like you – so listen to your body and act accordingly. Others will appreciate you being honest and not trying to cover fatigue – and take seriously comments from loved ones if they say you look drained today. Nap when you want to – guilt –free.   Don’t answer the phone – answer messages when it’s convenient for you. Eat carefully. Enjoy the holiday treats but balance that with nutritional soups and salads – to keep your weight in check. Remember to take your anti-nausea pills and avoid greasy/fried food. Get outside every day if you can and have a walk and inhale all that fresh air.  Keep up whatever level of exercising you’ve committed to.

The Emotional Ups and Downs

The holidays are an emotional time even without cancer. To keep your balance, remind yourself of good times and memories, look at photos of happy holiday times – consider posting them all over your fridge door, your mirror, anywhere they will bring a smile to you.  

We all have dark moments – the ‘will this be my last Christmas?’ thoughts – but remember that can be said by anyone. Have faith in the medical and research advances that are exploding, in the new treatments being developed, and remember that only God knows what’s really coming.

Lower your expectations. People will say foolish or inappropriate things – shrug it off. Don’t dwell on the negative. Surround yourself with positivity: music, movies, books, art that lifts your spirit.
Count your blessings. Even on our worst days, we still have a safe home, a free country, and most of us are blessed with friends and family.

How do you cope with cancer during the holidays? Comment below, or take part in our recent discussion on coping with cancer during the holidays.

You can hear more from Holly, by watching our recent webcast by clicking here



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