A woman standing confidently in front of a house decorated for the holidays

Cancer Holiday Survival Guide

Last updated: December 2021

The Holidays with cancer. Of course, that’s a phrase no one wants to hear. Or say. Or even read, but for those of us here, it’s probably a reality. Blood cancer is a long-term deal most times, and that means it’s going to be here whether it’s time for Santa, Cupid, or Mr... Tree... man? (Whatever mythical feature comes on arbor day.) All that aside – it means that along with the regular stress and hectic schedule that comes with the holidays, we also have to deal with the physical and mental side effects of cancer.

So, in order to help, as I often do, I present to you this year’s holiday survival guide for people living with cancer. Personally, I’ve dealt with cancer for five years now and chronic illness for more than thirty, so you could say I’m a bit of an old hand. I’ve had to develop some strategies over the years that will help to, well, maybe not lessen the stress per se, but spread it out like so much stress butter on the life toast of your patience. How’s that for a metaphor?

Start prepping early

Here’s your first tip – the holidays happen every year. Aren’t you glad you have me to give you this amazing sage advice? Well, its’ true, and what I mean by this is that it’s not a surprise when the holidays hit. It’s not like suddenly someone posted on Twitter “Hey why don’t we give each other gifts and have lots of get-togethers at this end of this year?” and it trended and now we have holidays. Or they'd probably call it "The HOLLYs" or some such drivel. Either way... no.

Whatever they're called, they've been around probably since you were born, so it should be something you, at least casually, prepare for all year. If you see presents you might like to give in June, don’t wait until December to buy them! Grab it when it’s on sale and stash it in the closet with your old winter coats and snow shovels. If you keep on preparing throughout the year then by the time the holidays actually hit, you’re already half done. Especially this year with all the supply chain woes. Still, if you didn’t do it this year keep it in your pocket for next time around because, guess what? The holidays are gonna happen again next year too.

Strategically schedule any appointments

Next, it's best to schedule any doctor’s appointments you have either towards the beginning of the month, or the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The rest of the weeks are usually tied up with get-togethers, ugly sweater parties, and work parties. I prefer the beginning of the month so I can enjoy the rest of the holiday time without worrying about schlepping into the doctor’s office when it’s quite evident that both of us don’t want to be there. Plus, that week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day is the weirdest week of the year. You feel like something just ended and it should be time for something to start so you don’t know whether to be happy or sad or what. Best just to stay home and watch James Bond and Twilight Zone marathons that whole week.

Prepare to deal with family and friends

Holidays also means family and friends. Now, we all love our families. And our friends. Probably one of those groups more than the other, I’ll let you decide which. Either way, it means dealing with people who, historically, have absolutely no problem putting their feet in their mouths whenever the mood strikes. To that end, you should be ready with several pre-prepared statements that can nip any potential awful conversations in the bud. Such as:

“Well, really, is there is no ‘good’ kind of cancer, but I am lucky – it could have been worse.” This one is for those “hobbyist doctors” in your social circle who put themselves forward as experts after reading one article on WikiPedia. You don’t want to get into a protracted medical conversation with them as it would be like discussing the intricacies of French Pastries with Twinkie the Kid.

“Yes, I’ve heard of turmeric. I don’t think it’s for me, but thanks.” You definitely want to put the kibosh on this one as soon as the “t” words crops up. This year’s shark cartilage enema or glucosamine, turmeric is being touted as the panacea for whatever ails you – baldness, rheumatism, yellow teeth, and of course, cancer. It’s best to put these new-age snake oil salesmen in their place before you end up with 17 bottles of turmeric rotting in the back of your spice cabinet.

“The fatigue I have, unfortunately, can’t be cured by more or better sleep.” This one is invaluable as it is going to come up, I guarantee. Every year, inevitably, someone is going to tell you that you are sleeping incorrectly and have been for years. Gee, and here I thought it was just lay down, close eyes, dream of Jeannie. Apparently there is a whole complicated science of sleeping that involves buying many expensive gadgets and over-the-counter medications. Best to avoid the whole subject.

Take care of yourself

As you can see, the holidays are a time when there will be no lack of stressful triggers to deal with, so it’s best to be prepared. In all seriousness, I may joke, but taking care of yourself needs to be your present to you this season.

Remember, if you work hard to make a great holiday for everyone around you but can’t take part yourself, then you’ve ostensibly ruined it anyway. So take care, and have a great holiday, whatever you celebrate! Talk soon.

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