2023 Holiday Survival Guide

There's been a lot of discussion lately about cancer and the effects it has on family and the people close, and, well, there is no time of year like the holidays that provides more fantastic opportunities to observe the different archetypes of friends and relations in their natural element.

Drama for the holidays

Get-togethers, parties, even, ugh, brunches, it’s a holiday extravaganza, and when you have blood cancer, it becomes a veritable safari of human interaction and drama. So buckle up, and let's dig into the 2023 edition of the cancer patient's holiday survival guide!

Every year, I try to put out a similar article. You'd think it was the same thing every year, but each holiday season, the world is a little different, and you are a little different, so it's nice to go over things again.

I mean, think about it: if you told someone in 2018 that you would be worried about a worldwide pandemic and would be thinking of wearing a mask all the time, they'd call you a lunatic and stick you at the kid's table for Thanksgiving.

Every year is a little different

So, it's 2023, and the world is, let's say, a bit on edge. The war in the Middle East, the pandemic getting worse again, inflation. These are on everyone’s minds, and you have to navigate this complicated conversational world as someone who has cancer. It isn't easy.

A few years back, you could say something like, "Well, I have cancer." and people would stop what they were doing and give you all the support and sympathy you rightfully deserved without much work.

The state of the world takes center stage

These days, though, the world is such a mess that you can literally stand on top of the dining room table with one foot in the mashed potatoes and one foot in the cranberry compote and scream at the top of your lungs, "I HAVE FREAKIN' CANCER!!" and there will be one or two relatives who just say, "Yeah, so what else is new, the world sucks now!"

It is disheartening, to say the least, when you are competing with a crumbling world where the news seems to always be bad news, and the only good news is that there is no bad news that day.

The unsolicited advice is almost the same

The same people are still there, though, like nosy Uncle Albert, who is always ready to talk your ear off about the latest fad folk cure that definitely probably for sure positively will cure your cancer because his old army buddy's cousin's roommate's trainer's sister-in-law read on Facebook that it definitely probably for sure positively works, which, as we know, is basically the same as having a Harvard Medical degree.

Three years ago, it was shark cartilage. Two years ago, it was cherry pits. This year it's... wait for it... turmeric! Yes, the cure-all curry seasoning that is sitting at the back of your spice cabinet in a glass jar so old it has a tarnished label with the word “swell” on it. Yes, apparently, that is red gold in a bottle, and the world was just too ignorant to see it until now - except for those geniuses on the Facebook “Borders Without Doctors” group dedicated to debunking those pesky medical “myths.” Thank God.

Try to remember that all of it comes from a place of (mostly) love. Uncle Albert probably read up on it somewhere online, which takes time, and that time was spent caring about you, so just do your best to grin and bear it and excuse yourself to the bathroom after five minutes if it gets too flat-earthy.

The relative who steals the show

Also, there will probably be a Mimi. A Mimi makes everything about them (get it? Me-me? Come on, this is comedy gold.) Whether it’s the war in the Middle East or the fact that groceries are so expensive now and how she just can’t afford those Godiva chocolate truffles she must have every night; it’s always a tragedy and always about her.

That includes your cancer, unfortunately. They just can’t stand to be upstaged and cancer, well, it pretty much always steals the show., I have even heard Mimis go so far as to say things like, “Oh, I totally get that! I have tennis elbow, and it’s basically cancer; it never goes away!” Yes, Mimi, it’s totally the same. TOTALLY.

This person is a bit more difficult to put up with but try to remember that the reason they are doing it is likely because they are extremely insecure and probably have low-self esteem. That means you can do your good deed for the month and give them a compliment or two and make their week. You’d be surprised how far one little “You look really good today!” can go with a Mimi.

Bringing their personal fears to the holiday gathering

Finally, there’s The Sergeant. Sarge is the one who tells you to “suck it up,” and in his day, “people got cancer, got up, and went right back to the coal mine.” They don’t seem to understand how debilitating cancer can be.

They can’t grasp that cancer isn’t just cancer - it’s fatigue and dread and anxiety and exhaustion and good ol’ pain all rolled up into one huge ball that can unpredictably run you over at any time. This year, they will be especially condescending, talking about how bad they have it in the Middle East and, how some people can’t even afford to buy groceries and how “lucky” you are.

Well, just remember that Sarge is probably secretly terrified of cancer and seeing you laid low reminds him of his own mortality, and that can be scary - especially for those “walked both ways to school uphill” types. Just be kind and tell them you are fighting it as best you can and you haven’t given up.

The holidays are a lot, for anyone, but with cancer it can be especially trying. Just remember, you are there, ultimately, because you all care about each other and remind everyone that should trump all other concerns. Actually, on second though, you may not want to mention the “T” word! Happy holidays!

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