It’s no surprise that the holidays come with a mixed bag of emotions and experiences. In the best of circumstances this time of year, while joyful, carries a fair amount of stress, but when cancer enters the equation, many of the already complex feelings are magnified. Sometimes the patient is the one who typically hosts the holiday and is totally overwhelmed by even the thought of having a house full of people. Other times it might be a caregiver who pales at the thought of keeping track of 10 grandkids while trying to ensure a spouse is comfortable. While there is no solve-all for holiday challenges, below are ten tips to consider in making it through this holiday season with as much joy and as little stress as possible.
1. Be choosey of your decorations: Regardless the holiday, there’s a good chance your home will be decked and your loved ones donned with a bevy of festive accoutrements. It might be tempting to go overboard with the trappings of the season, but maybe this is the year you choose only a few items that carry the most sentimental value and make them the focal pieces of your home. If the thought of fewer decorations makes you blue, another idea might be to organize a decorating party where those close to you come over and do the heavy lifting while you sit in your comfy arm chair with some alcohol-free egg nog and ‘supervise’.
2. Take advantage of online everything: Did you know that there are sites where you can load your list of addresses, choose a card that suits you, pay a little extra, and the company sends the cards out on your behalf? Sites like Shutterfly (https://www.shutterfly.com/cards-stationery/greeting-cards) and Postable (https://www.postable.com/) allow you to customize your message or include family pictures and take care of all of the legwork from there. Similarly, there are retailers that, often for a fee, will giftwrap your purchases for you. Retail Me Not has a great list to start with (https://www.retailmenot.com/blog/gift-wrapping-services.html).
3. Delegate, delegate, delegate: You may historically be the turkey carver or the host of the annual cookie exchange, but there are often people waiting in the wings to take over some of the heavier duties this holiday season, so where you may have owned something in the past, it’s time to ask that child, sibling, neighbor, coworker, etc. to step up and take their turn.
4. Similar to the above, take people up on their offers to help: Many patients and caregivers have stories of well-meaning family/friends that offer the generic “please let me know if there’s anything we can do”. The holidays present the perfect opportunity to cash in some of that goodwill. If you aren’t comfortable asking for yourself, there’s no shame in asking that loved one with a big mouth and an even bigger heart to spearhead this effort. Some popular asks are for periodic meals, help wrapping presents, help preparing your home for visitors, and many other tasks.
5. Finances tight? Take advantage of local services: It’s a truth universally acknowledge that people get both crankier and exponentially more generous during the holiday season. Churches have food drives, students have service hours, and many companies and religious organizations purchase presents for families in need. An anonymous giving tree at a local church might be the perfect solution to tight finances during the holidays. Similarly, the neighbor kid with too much energy may have service hours to log, and, well, that snow isn’t going to shovel itself.
6. Schedule heavier on the good days and light on the bad: If you’ve committed to something labor intensive, one thought might be to do as much pre-work as possible. For example, much food prep can be done in advance and frozen (cookie dough freezes great!). Sometimes chemo comes with some fairly predictable good/bad days, so with a little planning we can capitalize on those good days and knock out some work in advance.
7. Consider forgoing gift exchanges or giving them a revamp: There are many options to offer that help skirt the financial pit that is holiday gift giving. There are white elephant gift exchanges, lotteries, setting fun limits (thoughtful gifts under $5 are always interesting) or even forgoing exchanging gifts entirely. My personal favorite is convincing loved ones to pool money that would have been spent on gifts and adopting a family instead.
8. Keep up healthy habits: This one is a tough sell, but hear me out. It’s all too easy during the holidays to indulge, and to a point you absolutely should, but if you’ve been adhering to healthy habits that have been helping you to feel well, as hard as it might be, it’s so important to keep those up! Cold weather may make it hard, but finding places to keep a walking routine going and bringing healthy dishes to family gatherings will be small steps that can make a big difference in how you’re feeling. As a bonus, if you’re feeling up getting out and shopping local, you can get a good walk in, and often family owned businesses are more apt to gift wrap for free (see #2).
9. Pamper yourself: Have you been meaning to try a massage but just haven’t found the time? Is there a movie you want to see? There’s no time like the present, and your health will benefit from anything that offers some stress relief through the holidays. Oftentimes cancer centers offer free services like massages and meditation classes, so you don’t have to eat into your holiday budget to take care of yourself.
10. Go somewhere warm and leave all the stress behind: While there may be no place like home for the holidays, we can bend the definition of ‘home’. So long as you’re with the people you love most, a vacation might be the perfect holiday solution. Jetting off to an all-inclusive resort or holiday cruise might be just as festive but without any of the headache. Similarly, going to visit family instead of playing host, alleviates much of the burden of the season.
In general, the most important cancer holiday rule of thumb is to just try to enjoy it. That might mean asking for help more to lift a burden, but that’s not only ok, it also gives loved ones the chance to step up and offer their support. They’ve probably been trying to think of ways to help.
Also, one especially nice touch is to always send thank you cards to those who have offered aid throughout journey. It’s amazing how far that little bit of positive reinforcement goes, and a handwritten card touches even the grinchiest of grinches.
So what have I missed? Please share your favorite holiday survival tips in the comments!
Happiest of holidays to the CC family, and stay tuned next time for a patient perspective post on December 5th.