Celebrating Holidays With a Cancer Diagnosis

Community // November 19, 2020
Celebrating Holidays With a Cancer Diagnosis

The 2020 holiday season looks different for many people. As coronavirus cases increase in many parts of the United States, people are making changes to their holiday plans. Lots of people are opting for smaller, more intimate Thanksgivings and preparing for changes to winter holiday celebrations.

For those with cancer, the holiday season is further complicated. Regardless of cancer stage, type or other factors, a terminal disease doesn’t lend itself to getting into the holiday spirit. A perspective shift to focus on making the most of the holidays may be just what the doctor ordered.

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Finding a New Normal

Many aspects of life change with a cancer diagnosis. You may have adjusted your day-to-day expectations, and now you may need to adjust your idea of holiday celebrations.

It may be healthy to sit with your emotions, which can be wide-ranging. Process the changes in your own time. Acknowledge any distress you may have around these changes.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to carry on as if nothing has changed. 

Being honest with yourself and loved ones about your feelings around the holidays will help ensure you’re able to enjoy the season. Be realistic, and don’t put undue stress on yourself and your family to live up to arbitrary expectations.

Tips for Hosts and Loved Ones

Supporting someone through their cancer journey is not always easy. Support also doesn’t come one-size-fits-all. Supporting someone during the holidays may be even more difficult. To best support someone:

  • Ask them what “help” looks like to them right now.
  • Offer to be their “hands” and decorate, do the shopping or wrap gifts while they direct.
  • If hosting, ask about any dietary restrictions (certain food smells may trigger nausea).
  • Bring the celebrations to them if traveling is difficult.

Make a List of Things Important to Your Holiday

Most people have many holiday traditions. Traditions can vary in personal importance and intensity level. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season may zap a cancer patient’s energy. It can leave them feeling drained mentally and physically.

Decide what’s most important to you this time of year to feel in the holiday spirit. List out the potential celebratory events and prioritize them. This can ensure a pared-down holiday itinerary includes your must-have traditions.

Simplify Common Traditions to Make Them Easier on the Body

Cancer symptoms and side effects vary based on cancer type and by patient. In the case of pleural mesothelioma symptoms, it is common to have issues catching one’s breath. To combat breathlessness and fatigue:

  • Modify traditions to be completed while seated
  • Instead of making all the side dishes for Thanksgiving, teach your loved ones the recipes to pass on the tradition
  • If you are typically the host, reach out to loved ones about changing the location this year
  • Use mobility aids, such as a wheelchair, to accompany your family on outdoor traditions
  • On particularly hard days, use technology to virtually partake in high-exertion events when you need to remain indoors

Talk to Your Doctor About Adjusting Treatment

Cancer treatments can take a toll on the body. For mesothelioma patients, common treatments include chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. While it is important for patients to stick to a schedule, a slight treatment change may help you feel your best during the holidays.

Pausing treatments may not be possible, but there may be palliative options to ease uncomfortable symptoms and treatment side effects. You can begin these conversations early to give your medical team time to consider all the potential options.

Maximizing your energy levels and minimizing any potential side effects from treatment may be the boost you need to focus on enjoying the holidays.