The holidays are full of excitement and traditions, and while that can bring many of us joy, it can also cause a good deal of stress and disenchantment as well. If you have a loved one with a blood cancer such as myeloma, leukemia, or lymphoma, you may be concerned that they are feeling too much pressure to keep up during the holidays, and you may be struggling with worries about their cancer diagnosis as well. So what can you do to help?
Be realistic- this year is going to be different. No matter what stage your loved one is at in their diagnosis, just awaiting results, undergoing treatment, recuperating from therapy, or in the hospital, the holidays are going to be impacted by their diagnosis. It is important that you (and they) realize that and adjust your expectations accordingly.
They may not be able, willing, or interested in participating in the holidays as they have been in previous years- and that is okay.
Talk about it. Open up the discussion about how this season will be different from the past. This will help you to determine how you can best provide support and help. It will also let your loved one know that there is no need for them to be upset or guilty about their level of participation in the festivities.
Start something new. If you think about it, you may be able to come up with some festive activities that do not require a good deal of preparation or energy. For example, have you ever strung popcorn to decorate the tree? Have you ever watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Sound of Music” from start to finish? Have you ever spent an evening just driving around looking at Christmas light displays? Maybe this is the year to start!
Don’t exclude your loved one. Sure, they may not be able to do all the things they used to do during the holiday season, but do allow them to participate where they can and want to. As long as their expectations of themselves aren’t unrealistic, contributing to the festivities may help your loved one to cope with the holidays.
Discuss invitations. Just as it is important for your loved one to have some “down time,” they may also not want to isolate themselves over the holidays. It is necessary to find a healthy balance between the two. Extend invitations to holiday events and functions, but don’t take it personally if they don’t always accept.
Acknowledge the risk of depression over the holidays. Despite all interventions, you may notice that your loved one is unable to shake the stress or sadness they are experiencing over the holidays. Or, you may find that your feelings of depression are heightened over the season. It is important to recognize the difference between the “holiday blues” and a clinical depression. If you are worried that you or your loved one may have a serious depression, please seek help from a healthcare or mental health profession without delay.
Wrapping it Up
The holidays can put an enormous stress on all of us. These feelings may be increased for those with a cancer diagnosis and those who love them. The best thing that you can do to help your loved one manage through the holidays is to discuss expectations and limitations in advance and keep the lines of communication open. Support them in what they choose to participate in, as well as what they choose not to. Finding creative ways to celebrate the holidays may lead to new festive traditions that you will enjoy for years to come!
Cancer.Net "Cancer and the Holidays." http://www.cancer.net/patient/Coping/Relationships+and+Cancer/Cancer+and+the+Holidays Accessed December 15, 2011.
Cancercare.org "For Caregivers: Coping With The Holidays and Special Occasions." http://www.cancercare.org/publications/2-for_caregivers_coping_with_holidays_and_special_occasions#adjusting-your-expectations Accessed December 15, 2011